Outer Banks Sentinel
May 2, 2017
BY NEEL KELLER | SENTINEL STAFF
Reaction from OBX leaders, activists comes loud and fast
A number of Outer Banks activists and community leaders are voicing opposition to the April 28 executive order signed by President Donald Trump that re-starts the process for offering offshore oil and gas drilling leases in areas including the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic.
And these forces seem to be gearing up for another fight in an offshore energy drilling battle that they once appeared to have won.
In signing the order for an “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy,” Trump declared that, “Today we’re unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying American energy jobs. Our country is blessed with incredible natural resources, including abundant offshore oil and natural gas reserves.”
The President’s order reverses actions by the Obama Administration, which eventually put a permanent ban on offshore drilling in the some portions of the Atlantic and denied permits for seismic testing. Those decisions came after months of activism by Outer Banks environmental advocates who staged a number of major anti-drilling protests in 2015.
In April of that year, the Dare Board of Commissioners, for the fourth time in its history, passed a resolution opposing offshore drilling. And the new Trump order quickly sparked criticism from many of those same quarters.
“We’ve had multiple resolutions in opposition to offshore drilling as a board, and I wouldn’t anticipate that to change,” said Dare Board Chairman Bob Woodard. “I can’t speak for the board, but I am personally opposed to it.” Board Vice Chairman Wally Overman agreed that the board is likely to stand by its many resolutions, adding, “My position certainly has not changed.”
Outer Banks Surfrider Foundation Co-Chair Ivy Ingram stated that, “Our chapter is opposed to offshore oil and gas exploration because of the threat of spills, the questionable impact of seismic testing, and overall impacts on marine life.”
And Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce President Karen Brown asserted that, “offshore drilling is a forever decision that will forever change our way of life for the worse…Today we are delivering our clear message to Interior Secretary Zinke: no offshore oil exploration and drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.”
Speaking to reporters, Interior Secretary Zinke noted that any awarding of offshore leases would take considerable time given a process that mandates multiple reviews and public comment periods — and that it is most likely to take two years or more for a new Five-Year Plan to be finalized and the lease auction process to begin.
Trump’s order was hailed by a number of oil and gas industry leaders, with American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard releasing a statement declaring, “Developing our abundant offshore energy resources is a critical part of a robust, forward-looking energy policy that will secure our nation’s energy future and strengthen the U.S. energy renaissance.”
International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC) President Nikki Martin also stated that, “The IAGC commends President Trump’s Executive Order to review offshore oil and gas leasing plans…The President has made a significant move in the right direction in correcting the failed energy policies of the previous Administration.”
Locally, a number of municipal leaders lined up in the opposite camp.
Nags Head Mayor Bob Edwards said, “I continue to stand by our Board resolutions opposing drilling off our North Carolina coast. Such exploration is a threat to our pristine environment, ocean wildlife and our local tourist industry.”
Kill Devil Hills Mayor Sheila Davies said she was “very disappointed in Trump’s Executive Order instructing the U.S. Department of Interior and BOEM to re-start the process for offshore drilling leases…There are no benefits from offshore oil/gas that can outweigh the associated risks.”
Those sentiments were echoed by environmental advocacy organizations. “Instead of risking our coasts, President Trump should pay attention to the thousands of citizens, fishermen and business owners along the Atlantic Coast and the millions of Americans from Alaska to Maine who already said no to offshore drilling,” said Rachel Richardson of Environment America.
Echoed Oceana’s Jacqueline Savitz: “As thousands gather in Washington this weekend for the Peoples Climate March, we need to send President Trump a clear message: protect our coast from dirty and dangerous offshore drilling.”
And while it is clear that those opposed to offshore drilling have spoken loudest on the issue, there is at least one piece of evidence suggesting that general public sentiment may be more mixed.
A 2015 survey of nearly 900 residents in eight North Carolina oceanfront counties that was commissioned by the Coastal Review Online and conducted by Public Policy Polling, found that the difference between those who opposed offshore energy drilling (46%) and those who favor it (42%) was quite small. One additional finding, however, was that 57% of the respondents said it was “very” or “somewhat” likely there would be a significant oil spill or accident.