Ringing a bell about something that I was previously planning to post on anyway, my Central Committee cohort Julie Brewington wrote on social media today about a disagreement she had with the Assateague Coastkeepers regarding what they consider “factory farms” being proposed and built in Wicomico County. (So I’ll give the onetime blogger a hat tip.) Obviously the Coastkeepers have a concern about what they see as excessive pollution arising from what chickens naturally do, which is doo-doo. It’s been a concern of the state for years, and earlier this year you may recall Governor Larry Hogan thwarted the efforts of the outgoing O’Malley administration to curtail chicken farming via the Phosphorus Management Tool. Unfortunately, Hogan later conceded that these farms and their by-products are an issue worth regulating (with his Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative) to the point where some farmers would not be allowed to use this natural fertilizer. This edict disproportionately affects Eastern Shore farmers.
At the risk of excessive aggravation, I visited the Assateague Coastkeeper site for one simple reason: if they didn’t want the poultry industry and its huge economic impact of the area, what do they see as job creators? As I expected, I was disappointed in what I found: aside from a legislative agenda that would subsidize offshore wind, their overall strategic plan fails to address the economic impact their wish list would create or lay out an alternative scenario. (They are working on the “educational” part of the agenda, though.)
Not only do the Coastkeepers have an objection to the chicken farms, though, but they also object to offshore drilling off our coast despite its potential for good-paying jobs. In fact, their advocacy shuts the door to even doing the seismic testing needed to see how much oil and natural gas could be out there. It’s rather unfortunate that Ocean City and Lewes, Delaware have fallen for the scare tactics groups like the Coastkeepers use to try and prevent this technique, which is already used in the Gulf of Mexico. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (a federal agency) notes that:
To date, there has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from air guns used in geological and geophysical (G&G) seismic activities adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities. This technology has been used for more than 30 years around the world. It is still used in U.S. waters off of the Gulf of Mexico with no known detrimental impact to marine animal populations or to commercial fishing.
If you want to know the truth, I think the Coastkeepers aren’t worried about the harm to marine life. They’re more worried that their smug assertions that there’s only a small amount of oil and natural gas out there – not really enough to be commercially viable – will be proven wrong. As technology improves for oil extraction, we could find there’s billions of barrels of oil or trillions of cubic feet of natural gas out there, meaning those nasty fossil fuels will be cheaper and obviously far more reliable than the bird-chopping windmills they want to build instead. Personally, I think if the market is there the wind turbines and oil rigs can co-exist – but I’ll bet the oil rigs create more local jobs.
Oil drilling, if it occurs, is probably a decade or more away, so in the here and now we have to be concerned with their opposition to expansion of the local poultry industry. And let’s face it: without Perdue, Mountaire, Tyson, et. al. there would be nothing on this part of the Eastern Shore to speak of except perhaps Salisbury University and Ocean City. Basically, Salisbury would be a slightly larger version of Princess Anne, which is a modest little county seat where the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore is located. That’s about it – there’s little commercial development in Princess Anne and not much to create jobs in Somerset County aside from UMES and the Eastern Shore Correctional Institution.
It’s understandable that someone who has chosen to live in a development bordering a rural area may object when a typical chicken farm opens up, but that is the deal with living by a farm. Any of us who grew up in a rural area can tell you that animals tend to smell sometimes, as does fertilizer. It’s all part of that “fresh country air.”
But to many thousands in the area, the smell of chicken poop is the smell of money – directly or indirectly, it’s how they make a living and thank God people around the world like to eat chicken. This region has had chicken farmers for generations, ever since the Perdue family put Salisbury on the map with their chickens.
So if this region is ever going to diversify its economic interests, one path we should explore is the path offshore. Let’s find out once and for all if there’s oil and natural gas out there, because as I said I think the Coastkeepers are worried that the answer is a resounding yes.