Threat of oil, natural gas drilling off Brunswick County returns with Trump declaration - The State Port Pilot : News

Threat of oil, natural gas drilling off Brunswick County returns with Trump declaration

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Posted: Wednesday, January 10, 2018 12:14 pm

Following up on an order and promise made by President Donald Trump last April, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has announced plans to open nearly all the nation’s offshore waters for drilling for oil and natural gas.

The move follows another recent announcement that the Trump administration is looking to scale-back some safety regulations enacted after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 workers and released 215-million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, fouling beaches from Louisiana to Florida.

The draft Five-Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program would sell leases for drilling as soon as next year in nearly all U.S. waters in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, with the exception of American Samoa. It is a dramatic reversal of the Obama administration’s ban on expanded drilling areas, and faces opposition from governors from Delaware to Florida and more than 140 Atlantic coastal communities.

Zinke said that responsible development of offshore energy resources would boost jobs and economic security while providing billions of dollars to fund conservation along U.S. coastlines. The secretary outlined 47 possible offshore leases from 2019 to 2024. Nineteen sales would be off Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, nine in the Atlantic and seven in the Pacific, including six off California.

“This is a draft program,” Zinke said in a conference call. “Nothing is final yet, and our department is continuing to engage the American people to get to our final product.”

Industry groups praised the plan, the most favorable to exploration and drilling in more than 30 years. Dozens of environmental organizations protested, and Gov. Roy Cooper has formally requested that North Carolina be excluded from the leasing plan.

“Offshore drilling represents a critical threat to our coastal economy,” Cooper said in a prepared statement. “Protecting North Carolina families and businesses is my top priority, and we will pursue every option to prevent oil drilling near North Carolina’s beaches, coastal communities and fishing waters.”

Last month, the Division of Coastal Management asked four companies to submit additional information about proposed seismic testing for offshore oil development because original proposals did not consider the latest scientific studies on harmful impacts to marine life, the governor stated.

The federal draft plan invites public comment. Cooper and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality have responded for the record. 

“It’s clear that opening North Carolina’s coast to oil and gas exploration and drilling would bring unacceptable risks to our economy, our environment and our coastal communities—and for little potential gain,” Cooper stated. “As governor, I’m here to speak out and take action against it. I can sum it up in four words: not off our coast.”

Randy Sturgill of Oak Island, an organizer for the non-profit environmental group Oceana, was more direct.

“This insane plan from the Trump administration proves they are only listening to oil interests while threatening all North Carolina coastal communities with their dirty and dangerous business,” Sturgill said. “This is a radical offshore free-for-all, as the administration ignores the cries of coastal residents and elected officials that have for years made it clear they don’t want the oil industry setting up shop along our beautiful Brunswick beaches.”

Sturgill called the issue “a battle for the Atlantic” that will set the stage for what residents leave for their grandchildren along the coast.

“The Trump administration’s plan not only ignores the risky nature of dirty and dangerous drilling, but also the people and coastal businesses who would be most affected,” said Diane Hoskins of Oceana. “The administration’s proposal would put large multi-national corporations ahead of coastal residents and healthy ocean-dependent economies.”

Brunswick County commissioners, in the majority, have formally endorsed oil and gas exploration. They are in the minority, as more than 140 Atlantic coastal communities and groups representing 41,000 businesses have opposed drilling in the Atlantic. Southport, Oak Island, Bald Head Island, Caswell Beach, Holden Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Sunset Beach and Belville have passed resolutions against drilling.

“By opening these areas to drilling, the Trump administration will be acting counter to the best available science—and the will of coastal communities,” said Drew Ball of Environment NC. “We have seen an unprecedented outcry against drilling in recent years.

“Local resistance matters,” Ball continued. “ More than 140 East Coast communities, including more than 30 North Carolina coastal municipalities, and thousands of businesses, trade groups and tourism associations have passed resolutions opposing Atlantic drilling and seismic testing.”

“Instead of threatening our waterways and marine wildlife, President Trump should pay attention to the thousands of citizens, fishermen, town councils and business owners along the Atlantic coast and the millions of Americans from Alaska to Maine who have already said ‘no’ to offshore drilling,” Ball said. “Today’s action is the wrong decision and we will do whatever it takes to block proposals to drill off our coasts.”