Outer Banks residents say 'no' to offshore drilling
By CATHERINE KOZAK
Coastal Review Online
For members of
LegaSea, an Outer Banks grassroots anti-drilling group, it was like a
flashback to more than 25 years ago when Mobil Oil Corp. wanted to
sink an exploratory well off Cape Hatteras – except this time, they
were joined by opponents of all ages and political stripes.
“I was just
bowled over by all the people that were there,” said Mickey Baker,
a founding member of LegaSea who attended an open house held Monday
by the Bureau
of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM. “I was very,
very encouraged. We saw another generation coming up.”
About 670 people
— more than any public meeting in BOEM’s five-year history
— poured into the unstructured four-hour session at the Ramada
Plaza Oceanfront Hotel in Kill Devil Hills to submit comments and
talk with staff about a proposal to open the Atlantic coast to
offshore oil and gas exploration.
The agency is
proposing up to 14 lease sales between 2017-2022 within planning
areas along the mid- and south Atlantic, Alaska and Gulf of Mexico
“I would say
we have heard from a lot of people today who are opposed,” Connie
Gillette, BOEM media relations manager, said late Monday as the
steady stream of attendees started slowing down.
said the agency, which oversees development of offshore energy
resources, welcomed the overwhelming community interest in the issue.
BOEM is the successor to the scandal-plagued Minerals Management
Service that conducted the previous oil meetings on the Outer Banks.
In the first
hour of Monday’s meeting, 200 people had signed in on the
attendance sheet, which is more than the total number of attendees at
earlier sessions in Norfolk, 150 people, or in Washington D.C., 70
people. The second highest attendance of BOEM’s 21 public meetings
on the issue so far was in Wilmington with 400.
Baker, who drove
two hours with 11 other Ocracoke Island residents, said she did not
encounter anyone in favor of drilling – “And I worked the room,”
she said, adding that she hopes Gov. Pat McCrory is listening. The
McCrory administration supports offshore drilling.
Murphy to Whalebone,” Baker said, “and up and down this pristine
coast of North Carolina are coming out and are saying no to offshore
appeared at an information room on another floor of the Ramada set
aside by American Energy Works, an arm of the American
At a rally
organized by Surfrider
Outer Banks and a coalition of environmental groups
held next door at the Comfort Inn, Baker helped unfurl LegaSea’s
Ocracoke banner that had been in storage for 20 years, and held a
sign that read, “Outer Banks Says No Thanks.”
In the front of
the packed room, folks young and old wearing T-shirts with
anti-drilling and environmentalist slogans lined the wall behind a
podium as a series of speakers came to the microphone.
“People my age
are furious,” said Aidan Charron, 16. “We care about the health
of the beach and marine life. We are not just beach bums.”
student at Manteo High School, vowed that young voters would work to
remove any politician who allows oil development in the Atlantic. “We
have to be loud, and we have to be heard,” he said. “We will not
be seduced by new job opportunities.”
Dare County and
each of its six towns have passed resolutions opposed to offshore
drilling, though some are quite dated.
executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, said that the
economic effects of the tourism industry in coastal North Carolina is
comparable to moderate projections of the oil and gas industry in 21
years. But, oil and gas production, he said, presents a “very real
risk” to the ever-growing tourism industry, which provides
thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue to local
communities and the state.
would we gamble with a proven industry?” Nettles said to cheers and
shouts of “amen” from an audience of about 400 people spilling
out into the hallway. “Offshore drilling is a threat disguised as
an opportunity,” he said.
Nettles took the
cue from a fussy child whining “nononoooo” to his parents.
Nettles repeated. “Exactly. No. Purely from an economic standpoint
– jobs and dollars – the pursuit of offshore drilling does not
make sense for North Carolina and it most certainly does not make
sense for Dare County.”
President Obama’s announcement in January to open sections of the
Outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas exploration, BOEM is
proposing to hold 14 lease sales in eight areas off the Atlantic,
Gulf of Mexico and Alaskan coasts. The planning areas in the Atlantic
stretch from south of New Jersey to the border of Florida. The
program is proposing to hold one sale in the Atlantic area. But, it
is not yet specified what areas may hold suitable amounts of oil and
gas for production, or where specific lease sales will be.
BOEM’s chief of strategic resources, was stationed at one of six
tables that explained the scoping process involved in the leasing and
exploration. She said that estimates of potential Atlantic coast
resources were updated last year, based on reprocessing of existing
seismic data. It was found, she said, that hydrocarbon deposits along
the Atlantic Continental Shelf are analogous to those discovered in
Nova Scotia and the horn of Africa, which are akin to the matching
puzzle pieces of Pangaea, the ancient super-continent.
surveys are being planned by the agency to give more precise
estimates of potential hydrocarbon deposits. The required use of
sonar technology is controversial, however, because of the potential
danger to marine animals, especially whales, dolphins and sea
turtles. Public meetings on the surveys are planned in April,
although none are scheduled on the Outer Banks.
Back in the late
1980s and 1990s, when Mobil Oil and Chevron were seeking permits to
explore for oil and gas, they were targeting specific lease blocks in
the “Manteo Exploration Unit,” about 40 miles off Cape Hatteras.
The chance of finding hydrocarbons there was estimated at only 7
percent. Mobil, however, had believed that there was potential to tap
a 5-trillion-cubic-foot gas field.
Prospect is a true wildcat,” said Minerals Management Service’s
1998 technical workshop document. “Risky as it may be, the Manteo
prospect is very important because of the enormity of the prospect’s
value reserves of nearly 1.5 billion barrels of oil or equivalent gas
would make it the largest domestic hydrocarbon discovery since
Prudhoe Bay and more than twice the size of the largest field
discovered in recent times in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico,”
the document read.
blocked by federal law and later won a court battle to recover
losses. Chevron also eventually lost interest in Manteo, although
other oil companies briefly reconsidered the area later in the 2000s.
leading the charge, opposition on the Outer Banks was vociferous. The
Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 galvanized opponents, who said that
oil drilling would pollute the Outer Banks’ clean beaches and harm
the valuable fishing and tourism industries.
putting a factory in the Grand Canyon,” said Linda Mizelle, the
former president of LegaSea, in an article published in the
Philadelphia Inquirer Aug. 1990.
Orr said that
the Manteo prospect is still considered a hydrocarbon-rich spot, but
its location is closer to the coast than the cutoff line for
potential lease areas and, therefore, may not be accessible.
Currently, there are no active leases in the Atlantic.
on the proposed leasing program will be accepted by BOEM through
March 30. Gillette said that comments will be available soon to
read online and will be considered in the planning document. The
draft Environmental Impact Statement, she said, along with the draft
Continental Shelf Oil & Gas Leasing Program are
expected to be completed in about a year.
for us to step back up,” said Michael McOwen, a LegaSea founding
member from Manteo. “Right now, this could be the beginning of a
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