February 27, 2018
‘Don’t Drill!’ Reverberates in Raleigh
Coast Review Online
first buses from the coast rolled in a little after 3:30 p.m. and about
a hundred New Hanover and Brunswick County residents disembarked,
chanting “Protect our coast.”
Through a Monday afternoon drizzle, more than 400 coastal residents
joined by dozens of others from around the state, shuttled between
dueling events showcasing the worries and possibilities surrounding oil
and gas exploration off the North Carolina coast.
The two events, an open house hosted by the federal Bureau of Ocean
Energy Management, or BOEM, and a boisterous rally hosted by a
coalition of environmental groups, including the North Carolina Coastal
Federation, were held on opposite sides of the same hotel with no
indoor way to get from one to the other.
It wasn’t the only disconnect evident between coastal communities
opposed to reopening the Atlantic Coast to drilling and the Trump
administration, which last year abruptly announced a revival of the
idea, only a year after it was taken off the table by the Department of
Working his way through BOEM’s information booths at the Hilton North
Raleigh/Midtown, New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple said he
doesn’t get how the risks to the state’s booming tourist industry are
worth the reward of even the most optimistic estimates of what might be
Haven’t We Been Here Before?
“We’re going to go through this huge risk for such a
minimal return,” Zapple said. There are no royalties coming, he
continued, and any infrastructure would likely go out of state, to
Norfolk or Charleston. “Where’s the return for North Carolina? It’s
just isn’t there.”
If this seems all too familiar, well … it should.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is working under the Outer
Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, otherwise known as the
2017-2022 National OCS Program, for offshore oil and gas development,
which was approved in 2016.
The Obama administration ultimately
took Atlantic offshore waters off the table in that plan, citing
potential conflicts with other ocean uses, including military and
commercial interests, and opposition from many coastal communities. But
President Trump signed an executive order
in April 2017 and set forth to develop a new National OCS Program for
2019-2024 that, if approved, will supersede the 2017-2022 program.
The 2019-2024 Draft Proposed Program, was released on Jan. 4. Comments on the DPP or its environmental impact statement should be submitted by March 9. Comments can be submitted online, mailed or hand delivered.
Zapple said the new push for offshore exploration adds to the stress of a region already dealing with the GenX issue.
“We have had more than our fair share of environmental issues that have come up and continue to come up,” he said.
The lack of a case for reopening the Atlantic leasing program was
reiterated by speaker after speaker at the Don’t Drill NC rally a few
Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan thanked the
crowd for making the trip and said the mantra of Gov. Roy Cooper’s
administration will remain “not off our coast.” He said the state would
continue to push for hearings on the coast, something Regan and the
governor pressed Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on during a
meeting at the executive mansion earlier this month.
“Interior Secretary Zinke and BOEM didn’t come to you but you brought it to them,” Regan said.
The secretary said the state would continue to push for an exemption
like the one granted Florida and is prepared to take the Trump
administration to court if necessary.
Dana Hirschman, senior deputy attorney general with the Department of
Justice Environmental Division, said the department was reviewing
previous offshore drilling battles.
“There is a lot of institutional knowledge at the Department of
Justice,” he said. “It’s not the first time we’ve seen this, it comes
up every few years. We are aware of what’s been done in the past and
we’re exploring all legal options available to us.”
Hirschman said whatever happens will ultimately depend on what course the federal government takes.
“We hope the federal administration will revisit this and respond to
the widespread public opposition in North Carolina and will take this
off the table. But if they do not, the attorney general stands ready to
do what is very necessary to protect our coastal resources and our
BOEM officials said the turnout in Raleigh was one of the largest
crowds so far in the series of information sessions in coastal states.
John Filostrat, a BOEM spokesman, said the possibility of a
coastal-area information session is being considered, but that a
decision would likely come in the fall, after the formal proposal.
Despite large numbers of opponents, not everyone in attendance disagreed with the Trump administration’s move.
Wearing his Halliburton jacket as he worked through a comment form at
one of BOEM’s public terminals, Mark Cares, a former employee of the
company who now works as a field engineer, said the country needs to
increase its energy independence. It would add jobs and bring prices
down, he said.
If the United States could once again be the largest producer and
exporter of energy, Cares said, “this world would be a safer place. It
would be a lot freer and it would be independent.”
But several speakers at the rally disagreed with the idea that the only path to energy independence involved offshore drilling.
Deb Butler, D-New Hanover, one of a handful of elected officials at the
rally, said there are other technologies and strategies that don’t
involve putting the coast at risk.
“We as climate change believers know that there are better energy
solutions, renewable sources of energy not the fossil fuels of the
past,” she said. An oil spill, she said, would not only cost billions
in lost revenue, “But more importantly, it would cost us a way of life
that money cannot buy.”
Industry Advocate Touts ‘Turning Point’
Responding Monday to the expected show of opposition at the BOEM
meeting, the North Carolina Petroleum Council released a statement that
offshore energy “could be a turning point” for rural areas in terms of
jobs, infrastructure and better schools.
“Interior’s offshore leasing proposal is a crucial development for
North Carolina’s economic and energy future. Being able to access more
energy resources off the coast of our state could create more reliable
and affordable energy for North Carolina’s consumers and families,”
said David McGowan, director of the council.
McGowan said the move is needed to update 30-year-old data on offshore petroleum reserves.