WILMINGTON — Monday morning concerned citizens from Brunswick and New Hanover counties joined environmental organizations Oceana, Don’t Drill N.C. and Brunswick Environmental Action Team at a rally in Sunset Beach to voice opposition to offshore drilling and seismic testing in the waters off the coast of North Carolina.
The Brunswick Environmental Action Team (BEAT), a citizen action group dedicated to environmental stewardship in Brunswick County, alongside Don’t Drill N.C., a similar citizen action group for the whole of coastal North Carolina, and Oceana, an international organization working to protect the world’s oceans, have teamed up to work toward uniting “North Carolina citizens in a bi-partisan effort” to oppose legislation that would allow testing and drilling for oil in Carolina waters.
The search for oil in the Atlantic
This past April, President Trump unveiled his “America First Offshore Energy Strategy,” aimed at rolling back Obama-era regulations that were designed to protect the Atlantic coast from offshore drilling.
Immediately following this executive order, five separate companies filed permit requests with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA) for “incidental harassment authorizations,” which essentially allows for seismic blasting operations to take place.
Seismic blasting is a form of high powered sonar based reconnaissance that uses high powered sound waves to map geological formations on the seafloor. Most often, these are used for oil exploration, as certain formations can be an indicator that natural resources are in the area.
Trump said drilling will create American jobs. Opponents say the sound waves have been shown to harm almost all forms of life in the ocean, from plankton and fish, all the way up to whales and dolphins.
If approved, these permits will allow these operations to bypass the Marine Mammals Protection Act, which prevents the killing of marine mammals by people.
The proposed testing sites extend from the coast of Delaware down to Cape Canaveral Florida, and stretch out 350 nautical miles into the ocean.
Rally in Sunset Beach
Monday’s event featured speakers ranging from concerned citizens, all the way up to state leaders, like District 18 Representative Deb Butler, who voiced her concern over the potential harm testing like this could lead to along our coast.
“It’s interesting, because once an oil lease is in place, it’s there forever,” Butler said. “It’s better to stop this sort of thing now, than allow them to keep going.”
Brunswick County resident and Local Senior Adviser to Oceana Randy Sturgill, echoed Butlers statement, saying that “This is the peoples march, the people are taking this to the government.”
According to Sturgill, there are currently 127 municipalities against the policy, and it all began in Kure Beach in 2015, when the town voted down a resolution to declare their opposition to offshore drilling and seismic testing. This kick triggered environmental groups like Oceana in the southeastern part of the state to buckle down, and prepare for a long fight.
Unfortunately for the opposition, Brunswick County is one of two counties in North Carolina to support the planned testing.
But, according to BEAT, that could soon change. Commissioner Mike Forte and Randy Thomson are in opposition of the plan, and the group is doing everything they can to convince another commissioner to swing opinion in their direction.
According to the groups, in the U.S. Congress, North Carolina is entirely opposed to offshore drilling except for District 7 Representative David Rouzer. Congressional candidate Dr. Kyle Horton, who is running in the Democratic primary for the chance to oppose Rouzer for the seventh district seat, gave an impassioned speech against offshore drilling at the rally.
“Our oceans are not for sale to the highest oil and gas bidder, we love our children too much to risk their health for generations to come,” Horton said. “We love them too much to risk their ocean refuge, because we want them all to breathe clean air as they walk the coast with their grandfathers.
“Let’s stop the drill, let’s protect our coast, let’s put people over profit, and let’s do this,” she said.