Council members are concerned that federal land leases will become available for energy companies as soon as 2021. It was standing-room only inside council chambers as representatives from environmental groups Oceana, the Sierra Club and Cape Fear Surfrider packed inside city hall.
After two hours of deliberation, council members unanimously approved the resolution brought to the floor by Councilman Charlie Rivenbark. Wilmington joins 16 other coastal communities in the state and more than 60 total towns along the East Coast to oppose offshore drilling activities.
“This resolution shows that people are standing up for their coastal communities and their way of life locally. They are the ones that are most aware of the true risks and they’re standing up to protect it,” said Claire Douglass, campaign director for Oceana. “Every ocean that we’ve drilled, we spilled.”
In a written statement presented to council members prior to their July 21 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.
“While this is a national issue, in North Carolina, we’re involved in this debate because of our governor and how strongly he is pushing for offshore oil drilling,” said Lindsey Deignan of Cape Fear Surfrider. “I think McCrory is out of touch to what the coastal communities want, and we want to send a message to him that we don’t want see this type of energy exploration off our coast and that his agenda is out of touch with what these communities really want.”
Robert Gisiner of International Association of Geophysical Contractors spoke in opposition to the resolution.
“Seismic testing can be used for many things, including research for wind farms, tsunami research, and mapping the ocean floor,” Gisiner said. “I don’t know why you’re being rushed to judgement and why communities up and down the coast are doing this. You have the time to make a decision. Take the time and make the right decision.”
To date, the only approved lease for the Mid-Atlantic region was scheduled for 2011, but it 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 were 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.
According to Wilmington Government Affairs Liaison Tony McEwan, there are currently no profit-sharing plans in place with North Carolina or any of the coastal towns since the land is owned federally.
“We’ve talked a lot about profit sharing tonight,” said Rivenbark. “I bet there are a lot of people on the Gulf Coast who would give all that money back. It’s nice to know that there hasn’t been an oil spill on the Atlantic sea board.”
And with a roar of applause from the crowd, the resolution was passed.
James Mieczkowski is a news reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @mieczkowskiPCD