South Portland passes resolve opposing offshore drilling

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night to oppose offshore drilling along the coast of Maine.

The resolution was brought to the panel by Councilor Adrian Dowling, who said the issue was brought to his attention by a constituent.

Resident Roberta Zuckerman said allowing drilling would only be a disadvantage to the city, commercial fishing, the tourist industry, and the fragile ocean ecosystem. “All of the ocean would suffer, and we would too,” she said.

Other residents said they were concerned the city could be used to store and transport oil, which would only benefit the oil company’s profits.

Under President Obama’s administration, offshore drilling for gas and oil was not allowed off the East Coast, but the Trump administration is considering a new program that would allow such drilling. More than 140 other coastal town and city governments – including Portland – have voted to oppose offshore drilling for gas and oil exploration on the outer continental shelf near their localities, according to a memorandum by City Manager Scott Morelli.

By passing the resolve, the South Portland City Council will be put on record as opposing offshore gas and oil drilling off the coast of Maine, and the city’s official position on the issue will be submitted to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in the Department of the Interior.

Before the vote, Councilor Eben Rose said while the city is making a strong statement, the only political power that remains is by voting.

The draft proposed program issued by the Secretary of the Interior for the 2019-2024 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program makes more than 98 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf of the United States available for oil and gas drilling. Included is the North Atlantic area off the coast of Maine for leasing in 2021 and 2023.

Offshore drilling may require significant onshore infrastructure, such as pipelines or refineries, which would harm the character of South Portland’s coastline and could exacerbate wetland loss and storm surges and sea level rise. Opening the Atlantic Ocean to offshore oil and gas drilling and exploration includes the use of seismic airguns, which fire intense blasts of compressed air that rank just behind military explosives as the loudest source of noise in the ocean. The airguns would go off every 10-12 seconds, 24 hours a day, for months on end, potentially harming ocean life that would include whales that have been inhabiting the offshore waters of Maine for millennia, said the resolve.

The impact of drilling could lessen the commercial fishing catch by 70 percent, a potentially high number that should scare the public, Dowling said.

Mayor Linda Cohen said she felt anger, sadness and fear when learning of the plan to allow drilling along the Atlantic Coast. ” I’m worried about the direction we’re headed in,” she said. “We’re making a statement, but it doesn’t mean they have to listen to us,” she said.

Juliette Laaka can be reached ay 781-3661 ext. 106., or at