At least one Brunswick County commissioner is ready to take a stand against offshore drilling for oil and natural gas off the Carolina coast.
District 1 commissioner Randy Thompson told fellow board members at the end of Monday’s regular meeting he has asked county staff to prepare a resolution against seismic testing and drilling in time for a vote at the March 19 board meeting.
Thompson asked county manager Ann Hardy and county attorney Bob Shaver to prepare and forward the resolution to commissioners so they will have “adequate time to review it before the third Monday in March” when the board next meets.
Thompson and fellow commissioners Mike Forte of District 4 and Frank Williams of District 5 voted last month to rescind a prior county resolution that supported seismic testing and drilling for oil, leaving the county officially in a neutral position on the controversial topic. Yet the board stopped short of taking an actual stand against offshore drilling.
District 3 commissioner Pat Sykes quickly said she was ready to decide the issue Monday and asked why not take an immediate vote.
“I don’t want to do any resolution, period,” said Sykes.
Shaver interjected that it was “appropriate to have it on the agenda when a commissioner requests it be on the agenda, and you can vote on it at that time.”
In a losing effort, Sykes and District 2 commissioner Marty Cooke voted last month not to kill the previous resolution and had lobbied to keep it. The 3-2 vote to rescind support followed a protest by residents and environmentalists outside the January 16 meeting. At that meeting, numerous people also addressed commissioners to ask that the resolution be rescinded.
Although the issue wasn’t on Monday’s agenda, commissioners heard 30 minutes of public comments on the controversy from both sides. Six speakers favored a ban on drilling and five were in support of offshore drilling. Another five people had signed up to speak but didn’t get to address the board before the public comment period expired.
Consumer Energy Alliance Southeast director Tim Page said high energy costs affect North Carolinians and that seeking Atlantic deposits to replace imports was a wise thing to support. CEAS bills itself as a consumer advocate that supports affordable, reliable energy for working families, seniors and businesses across the country.
“Offshore energy development in the United States is safe, and it is getting safer every day,” said Page.
Pam Sabalos of Shallotte Point handed board clerk Andrea White a list of 80 people she said were Brunswick County residents in attendance at Monday’s meeting opposed to offshore drilling. She said one county commissioner at January’s meeting questioned the residency of those present and suggested many had been bused in from other areas.
“We are here because we care about our coast,” said Sabalos.
Mel Foels of Leland said the board had reacted under pressure and without doing research in its vote to rescind support for drilling. He said there are places where tourism co-exists with offshore drilling.
“It was nothing more than political extortion,” said Foels. “To me, it’s a win-win situation. Do your research. Why not?”
Ginny Quaglia of Ocean Isle Beach drew laughter and a gavel from board chairman Frank Williams to silence the crowd when she said the “actions of three commissioners last month were in line with the leftist, extremist movement of the Obama administration.” She said residents expect commissioners to “continue to represent the majority of voters” and to not violate the Republican platform.
However, this is not a new issue that snuck up on the board, noted Peter King of Oak Island.
“We’ve been talking about this since 2015,” said King. “I think you are very well educated about the facts. I applaud the commissioners who went against the Republican Party principles, or what they call the principles, and voted against offshore drilling for oil.”
Southport real estate broker Mary Ann McCarthy urged the board to consider scientific assessments about seismic testing and drilling and examine all the pros and cons before taking action. She said all civil discourse seems to have been lost in the process.
“It will be many, many years before there is any oil or natural gas production,” said McCarthy.
Gregory White, a member of Brunswick Environmental Action Team, urged commissioners to support environmentally friendly and renewable energy sources instead of coal, oil and gas.
“Every municipality in Brunswick County that has considered seismic testing has voted against it,” said White.
More than 140 coastal communities and groups have opposed drilling in the Atlantic. They include Southport, Oak Island, Bald Head Island, Caswell Beach, Holden Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Sunset Beach, St. James and Belville.
Rich Cerrato, a Sunset Beach council member, said he was speaking not on behalf of the town but for himself in claiming tourism revenue would take a hit if offshore drilling is allowed off the Brunswick coast.
“The fallout of offshore drilling would be economically catastrophic, for all of us,” said Cerrato.
Dan George of Winnabow said since the issue surfaced he has learned that the Outer Banks of North Carolina has one of the largest gatherings of marine mammals on Earth. He warned that taxpayers may end up picking up the tab for clean-ups if a spill occurs and the industry is mired in financial trouble.
“The only thing I haven’t learned is the upside of opening up our waters to one of the dirtiest industries in the world,” said George.
George said polls show 56-percent of residents along the coast oppose offshore drilling while 51-percent nationwide stand opposed.
“I ask that you pass a resolution against offshore drilling,” he added.