Wilmington City Council to discuss resolution opposing offshore oil exploration

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BOEM could start leasing off-shore property for use by oil rigs-similar to this one-off the North Carolina coast. This particular rig is on a BOEM property on the West Coast.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) could start leasing offshore property for use by oil rigs – similar to this one pictured – off the North Carolina coast. This particular rig is on a BOEM property off the West Coast. Photo courtesy BOEM.

Wilmington City Council members are considering a resolution that opposes seismic testing and offshore drilling activities off the North Carolina coast.

Council members are concerned the proposed testing and drilling poses a threat to the coastline.

A vote on the resolution could be taken at council’s July 21 meeting. In a written statement presented to council members prior to their June 16 meeting, Wilmington City Manager Sterling Cheatham said the Obama administration – specifically the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) – has proposed opening up the southern Atlantic coastline to offshore oil drilling activities that would include auctioning off areas along the coasts of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia to energy companies.

According to Cheatham, BOEM, as outlined in its proposed five-year plan, began to seek input and public comments about the seismic testing and drilling activities from communities in Atlantic Coast regions that could see offshore leases as soon as 2021 and seismic testing as soon as 2017.

Seismic testing, or geophysical seismic surveying, is a method of mapping below the seafloor using sound waves. The sound waves are generated using acoustic energy from air guns that release bursts of compressed air, which are reflected back from rock layers below the seafloor and recorded, according to BOEM.

During the June 16 city council meeting, a resolution proposed by Councilman Charlie Rivenbark was brought to the floor in opposition of BOEM’s seismic testing and drilling that would mirror opposition voted on by town councils in Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach.

But soon after bringing the resolution to the floor, Rivenbark asked for a motion to continue to a later date, citing a concern from councilman Neil Anderson.

“I feel like I owe it to myself—and those who elected me— to do more homework before I vote on [the resolution],” said Anderson.

In response to the motion to continue the resolution, council members Kevin O’Grady and Laura Padgett said they would both vote in favor of the resolution regardless of a potential date change on the vote.

“Frankly I think it’s time we did it,” said O’Grady. “I don’t think the issue of the threat to the coast is in question from offshore oil drilling. There is no way oil companies can guarantee there will be no spills, and our coast will become the victim.”

Rivenbark asked that council doesn’t “construe my request tonight to mean that I’ve backed away from my stand, because I haven’t.”

Council voted unanimously to put the resolution on the July 21 council meeting agenda.

Offshore drilling in North Carolina

According to Wilmington’s Government Affairs Liaison Tony McEwan, if city council votes in favor of the resolution, it would be passed on to federal representatives, as well as N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory.

While the governor has expressed his interest in supporting offshore drilling – including in a statement he made for the BOEM – the decision to allow leasing of land in the Atlantic will be decided on the federal level with BOEM Secretary Abigail Ross Hopper reporting to the Department of the Interior and ultimately President Barack Obama.

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To date, the only approved lease for the Mid-Atlantic region was scheduled for 2011, but fell through in May 2010.

In a report from the BOEM, the natural gas and crude oil located in the Mid-Atlantic could be worth almost $250 billion, with more accurate estimates expected if seismic testing in the area is approved. The report also stated that the economic impact for port cities along the East Coast could result in thousands of new high-paying jobs, similar to that of Alabama, which reported 13,000 new jobs due to leases granted by the BOEM in 2013.

While seismic testing and drilling has yet to start, international and regional action groups such as The Southern Environmental Law Center and Oceana are vocalizing their opposition and creating grass roots campaigns. It was a local chapter of Oceana that introduced the resolution to Rivenbark.

“The threats of seismic airguns are real and unless we stop it they are coming soon to the Atlantic coast,” Oceana said in a news release. “The government’s own analysis states that seismic blasting could injure as many as 138,000 marine mammals like dolphins and whales, while disturbing the vital activities of as many as 13.5 million more.”

Wilmington City Council’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 21, at City Hall, 102 N. Third St. For more information on the BOEM, and along with Seismic testing and offshore drilling, visit the website here.

James Mieczkowski is a news reporter at Port City Daily. Reach him at james.m@portcitydaily.com.