Thursday, January 27, 2022

Offshore drilling: coming to a beach near you?

• Offshore drilling on the Atlantic Coast has been prohibited since the 1980s • The new plan would allow for nine new leases in the Atlantic • More than 1,200 local, state, and federal leaders have opposed opening the Atlantic to oil exploration

Offshore drilling could be coming to the Atlantic Ocean thanks to a new federal draft plan to open the ocean for oil exploration (Port City Daily photo/FILE)
Offshore drilling could be coming to the Atlantic Ocean thanks to a new federal draft plan to open the ocean for oil exploration (Port City Daily FILE PHOTO)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — The fate of Southeastern North Carolina’s shorelines is in the hands of the federal government. At the beginning of the month, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced a program that will make more than 90 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf available for oil and gas exploration.

As it stands now, the National Outer Continental Shelf Program has 94 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf off limits for oil exploration.

According to a Department of the Interior’s press release, “Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks.”

So, what does this mean for Coastal Carolina? According to Brunswick County Deputy County Manager Steve Stone, the proposed plan would allow for most of the waters off the N.C. coast would be open to exploration – these waters have been off-limits since the 1980s.

Since regulations on seismic testing were loosened last year, local activist groups have spoken out against the exploratory testing. The announcement has not officially opened the OCS to oil and gas exploration, and Zinke conceded not all areas are right for offshore drilling.

“Today’s announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period. Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks. The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance,” Zinke said.

Currently offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean is nonexistent, but the draft plan calls for nine lease sales in the Atlantic, three sales each for the mid and South Atlantic, two sales for the North Atlantic, and one sale for the Straits of Florida.

Concerns

Offshore drilling has been a point of contention across the country, especially on the East Coast.

So far, 144 East Coast municipalities and more than 1,200 local and federally elected leaders have opposed offshore drilling and seismic testing, Stone said.

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According to the nonprofit group Oceana, “East Coast communities strongly oppose offshore oil and gas drilling and exploration, including seismic airgun blasting—an extremely loud and dangerous process used to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean’s surface—because these activities threaten their economic well-being and quality of life.”

Newly elected Mayor of Carolina Beach Joe Benson weighed in on the issue as well, citing his concerns for an oil spill to outweigh any benefits offshore drilling could bring.

“There’s too much at risk to drill offshore, even if the chance of a spill is assessed to be minimal. A spill would have a devastating impact on our fragile shoreline; it could cripple the fishing industry and have a long-lasting impact on saline and fowl. Our coastal communities generate a lot of income for the state. That, too, would be severely impacted. I believe Gov. Rick Scott (Fla.) got it right. In essence, he saw it the same way: too much at stake to risk an accident,” Benson said.

Oceana lists New Hanover County’s own Kure Beach as the birthplace of the anti-seismic testing movement.

“Kure Beach, North Carolina, a picturesque tourist destination known for its small-town atmosphere and the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic coast, was ground zero in the fight against offshore oil exploration in the Atlantic Ocean … On Jan. 27, 2014, more than 300 residents showed up to protest the mayor’s position on seismic airgun blasting,” according to Oceana.

New Hanover County’s Chairman Woody White also offered his opinion on the draft plan and took to Twitter to express his concerns. White said he also saw no distinction between the tourism industry in F.L. and that of N.C. , and if the federal government was willing to make exceptions for Florida, it should be willing to give N.C. the same considerations.

The draft plan will now move onto the public comment period and it could be a year before the final plan is released by the federal government.


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