Local environmentalists who have spent the better part of two years fighting a proposal by the federal government to lease land off the Atlantic coast for offshore drilling and seismic testing will be gathering this Saturday to continue to show their stance against it.
The Cape Fear Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation is once again organizing a “Hands Across the Sand” event on the shores of Wrightsville Beach. The national movement and its sister event, “Hands Across the Land,” which takes a stand against fracking, were started in 2009 by Floridian Dave Rauschkolb to show how many people in his community were against offshore drilling.
“It kind of has grown since then and taken a life of its own,” said Kevin Piacenza, the offshore drilling campaign manager for the local Surfrider chapter. “The primary focus is to promote the transition toward alternative energy such as wind and solar and to also move away from so-called ‘dirty fuel.'”
The show of support for clean energy involves people standing side by side and holding hands to form a human chain on the beach. Last year, Piacenza said his organization sponsored two events: one in Wrightsville near Johnnie Mercer’s Pier, and the other in Kure Beach near their fishing pier. This year, their focus is on Wrightsville Beach, where the event will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. near Crystal Pier.
“We’re trying to create the longest line we’ve ever had and maintain vigilance on the issue,” Piacenza said. “Last year, we had about 150 to 200 people in line in Wrightsville, and about twice that in Kure Beach.”
Coastal beach towns, particularly along the Atlantic coast, have been at the forefront of the fight against the expansion of offshore drilling as well as seismic testing, which involves a series of underwater booms and explosions to see where the oil is. While leasing rights off the local coasts were taken off the agenda for the next five years by President Barack Obama’s administration, Piacenza said the fight is not over.
“Seismic testing is still on the table,” Piacenza said, saying key decisions are expected to be made in Washington, D.C. in the next month on that issue, which was not removed from the program. “And we still have to be vigilant about offshore drilling, especially with a new [presidential] administration coming in. Just because it’s off [the agenda] now doesn’t mean it will be in five years when the next plan is made.”
Over a hundred coastal municipalities, including the City of Wilmington and all the beach towns in New Hanover County, signed resolutions against the practices. Though it’s unclear whether any elected officials have participated or will participate in Hands Across the Sand, Piacenza said most have been receptive and have been partners with environmentalists on the issue.
“Locally, most of our elected officials support the industry of alternative energy,” Piacenza said, noting there has been resistance particularly at the state level (Gov. Pat McCrory and his administration support offshore drilling an seismic testing). “But we are still urging other elected officials to support the inevitable transition to clean energy.”
Oceana, another environmental group heavily involved with coastal issues, is organizing “Hands Across the Sand” events in Kure Beach as well as in Surf City and Topsail Beach in Pender County and Bald Head Island, Holden Beach and Ocean Isle Beach in Brunswick County, among many others.
The nationwide event encourages people to form a line along their local beach at noon local time on Sat., May 21. For more information about “Hands Across the Sand,” visit handsacrossthesand.org. To view Oceana’s planned events in North Carolina on Saturday, click here.
For more details about the Wrightsville Beach event, visit the event’s page on Facebook. It will be updated with information about a possible shuttle from the parking lot near Wrightsville Beach Town Hall as the details of that are finalized. Participants are also encouraged to bike to the beach if possible.