Sen. Thom Tillis announced Monday that President Donald Trump has agreed to add North Carolina to the list of areas off-limits for drilling for oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Tar Heel State will join Florida, Georgia and South Carolina with prohibitions for lease agreements until June 2032, Tillis said in a prepared statement.

Tillis stated he had listened to elected officials from “Brunswick to Currituck County,” and wanted new energy production off the coast conducted with input from local communities.

Trump announced an expansion of drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans in 2017. He recently agreed to exempt Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

“I want to thank President Trump for including North Carolina in the moratorium and listening to the concerns of North Carolinians on the coast,” Tillis said.

Gov. Roy Cooper, in a prepared statement, said he was glad the president listened to the bipartisan voices who’ve been fighting against offshore drilling for years. North Carolina will remain vigilant against drilling, Cooper stated.

“We are pleased that North Carolina has been included in the Atlantic oil drilling moratorium,” said Caswell Beach Mayor Deborah Ahlers. “Many of our residents have worked tirelessly to educate state and national leaders on the dangers of offshore drilling along our coast.”

Randy Sturgill, senior campaign organizers for the environmental group Oceana, said that while it was the president’s original plan that raised the specter of drilling, the 10-year ban is good news.

“Other East and West Coast states remain on the table for expanded drilling and deserve the same protections,” Sturgill said. “What President Trump deems good enough for North Carolina and Florida should be good enough for other states too.

“It’s time for the president to permanently protect our coasts and formally withdraw his entire radical offshore drilling plan.”

One company withdraws

In the wake of a lawsuit by North Carolina opposing a federal decision, WesternGeCo has withdrawn its application for permission to use seismic airgun blasting to test for oil and natural gas off the state’s coast.

State officials, backed by resolutions passed by 45 local communities, continue to fight the other four firms seeking permission to use high-powered blasts of air to map the seafloor and geology beneath.

State Attorney General Josh Stein filed the complaint August 26, reacting to a decision by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in June to override North Carolina’s objections to testing that could lead to offshore drilling. Seismic airgun blasting, which can affect marine mammals and kill fish larvae and zooplankton, is inconsistent with North Carolina’s Coast Zone Management Act, the attorney general wrote.

Recently, WesternGeCo withdrew its application.

“While this is great news for the protection of our environment and economy in Eastern North Carolina, we have more to do to protect our coast,” Gov. Cooper said in a prepared statement. “I stand with local leaders, families and businesses up and down our coast in continuing to fight the expansion of dirty and dangerous offshore oil and gas development.

“This fight is far from over, and our stance is clear — not off our coast, not today and not tomorrow.”

The news of the company’s withdrawal comes days after the Trump administration’s executive order that Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina will be protected from offshore drilling, and the acknowledgement that drilling could harm states’ economies and the environment.

Cooper has asked the Trump administration and Congress repeatedly to exempt North Carolina from any offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling. 

“North Carolina is a national leader in its pursuit of clean energy solutions and gambling with our coastal economy and natural resources to pursue fossil fuel extraction would take the state backwards,” said Secretary Michael S. Regan of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). “DEQ stands firmly with the coastal communities in the determination that seismic testing followed by offshore drilling is not consistent with our responsibility to protect our coastal resources and economy.”

Forty-five communities in the state have adopted formal resolutions opposing the expansion of drilling.

Testing is the next step in a lengthy, complex process that could lead to drilling for oil and natural gas offshore.

WesternGeCo was among five companies seeking permission to drag airgun arrays to create current maps; much of the existing data is at least 40 years old. The other four companies are involved in a separate lawsuit filed in South Carolina.