Much more than offshore drilling
could be in the future for coastal waters
By SUSAN WEST
Even as politicians stake out positions on opening offshore sites to
oil and gas drilling, other ventures could be in the cards for the
waters off the U.S. coastline.
Offshore aquaculture, where fish are farmed in large cages in open
ocean waters, has been touted by the federal government as the solution
to weaning American consumers off imported seafood.
Wind energy projects have been proposed for the waters off
Massachusetts, New York, Texas, and Delaware, according to the North
Carolina Coastal Resources Law, Planning and Policy Center.
And this summer the North Carolina General Assembly directed the
University of North Carolina to study the feasibility of building wind
turbines in Pamlico and Albemarle sounds.
Offshore oil and gas drilling, aquaculture farms, wind energy plants
– all of these ventures are likely to leave environmental and
socioeconomic imprints on ocean and coastal waters and on coastal
Even shoreline aesthetics are likely to change, as rigs, cages,
turbines, platforms, pipelines, cables, and barges become a more common
part of the waterscape.
And with more and more tracts of submerged lands cordoned off and
leased to private companies, the specter of “no
trespassing” signs posted on ocean waters raises its ugly head in
a nation where the public trust doctrine has driven policy and
law. First used to prohibit obstructions to navigation, the
doctrine holds that the government owns the land under navigable waters
in trust for its citizens.
“Minimizing user conflicts and not restricting public access to
public resources is a very salient issue,” said Lisa Schiavinato,
law, policy and community development specialist with North Carolina
Schiavinato is co-chair of the state’s Ocean Policy Steering
Committee, a 13-member panel that is developing a policy report with
recommendations on emerging ocean issues. Funded by Sea
Grant and the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management, the
project is the first broadly inclusive state ocean policy report since
The steering committee is focusing on five emerging issues –
renewable energy, water quality, offshore aquaculture, sand resource
management, and a comprehensive ocean management plan.
“The committee is looking at whether North Carolina would want to
develop a comprehensive management plan,” said Schiavinato.
Schiavinato said the state currently has “de facto
planning” under the Coastal Area Management Act permitting system
that brings activities such as bulkheading, dredging, and excavating
that disturb submerged land, in line with state resource protection
Still, North Carolina could follow the lead of Massachusetts where a
comprehensive ocean management plan will replace case-by-case
consideration of offshore development projects by the end of 2009.
With 4,000 miles of coast, the state has about 2.5 million acres of estuarine and ocean waters.
But development also takes place in waters beyond three miles offshore,
an area known as the federal Exclusive Economic Zone that extends 200
miles into the Atlantic Ocean.
Under the consistency provision of the federal Coastal Zone Management
Act, activities in federal waters that impact resources in an adjacent
state must be consistent with state policy.
Schiavinato said the influence of a state in the federal permitting
process is strongest when the state has developed an enforceable
resource management policy.
The draft ocean policy report will be discussed at “Shape of the
Coast,” a North Carolina Coastal Resources Law, Planning and
Policy Center forum in New Bern on Oct. 24. Three public meetings
will be scheduled this fall for public comment on the draft