Oceana’s Michael Messmer testified before Congress on Feb. 6 urging lawmakers to ban expanded offshore oil drilling and seismic air gun blasting in their next federal spending bill.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies heard witness testimony from several organizations pushing for greater environmental protections, including Messmer, the Ocean Advocate on Oceana’s Offshore Drilling Campaign.
“I am here to speak in opposition to expanded offshore oil and gas drilling,” Messmer said, specifically in opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal to drilling to more than 90% of federal waters.
Offshore drilling brings with it the risk of toxic oil spills and unsightly infrastructure that can upend coastal communities. Expanded drilling threatens more than 2.6 million jobs and $180 billion in GDP from tourism, recreation and fishing along the Atlantic, Pacific and eastern Gulf of Mexico. Messmer urged the committee, responsible for passing spending bills, to prohibit federal funds from being used to permit drilling activities in these areas.
“Blocking funding for leasing activities would effectively ensure a one-year moratorium on offshore drilling for those areas,” Messmer said. “We ask the committee to make it a priority to include these offshore drilling moratoria … and that the House insist upon the retention of such restrictions in any negotiations with the Senate.”
“Without moratoria provisions, Congress relinquishes its power to influence the future of offshore drilling to the executive branch,” Messmer added.
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) applauded Oceana’s efforts to protect coastal communities and economies that depend on clean oceans for their livelihood.
“Of course, being from an ocean state, we have so many concerns about the future of the ocean,” Pingree said. “It would be a huge challenge to our fishing industry; it would be a disaster to our tourism industry — two very important industries to our state. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Messmer’s testimony also highlighted the risks of exploring for potential offshore drilling sites. Exploratory activities such seismic airgun blasting pose dangers to marine life before commercial drilling even begins. The blasts can harm or even kill marine mammals. This represents an unacceptable risk of harm for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, which only about 400 remain. The species faces a high risk of extinction and seismic airgun blasting threatens their survival.
“Thank you so much for the data and support around limiting seismic exploration,” Pingree said. “Obviously, the right whale is a huge topic in the Gulf of Maine. We are concerned about every threat to the right whales so thank you for making that case.”
Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) told Messmer he recently met with constituents in Greys Harbor County, Washington who work in the fishing industry.
“The concern about offshore drilling is real. It is perceived in our region — by democrats, republicans, you name it — as a real threat to those livelihoods, to our maritime industry, to commercial fishing, sport fishing, tourism,” Kilmer said. “We have a $50 billion maritime economy, almost 200,000 jobs supported by it, just in Washington state alone. It is incompatible with oil and gas development.”
Kilmer asked what Congress could do to protect the coastal communities that are put at risk from the dangers offshore drilling.
“We would really like to see the restoration of these funding restrictions in the bill,” Messmer said, noting it had been a longstanding tradition for House lawmakers to block offshore drilling through the appropriations process. “This is something Congress [did for] almost 30 years from 1982 to 2008.”
President Trump’s offshore drilling plan currently appears to be stalled. However, his administration could resume their efforts at any time and congressional action would ensure that offshore drilling is not expanded to new areas.