BOC splits over offshore drilling

Published 8:46 am Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Currituck’s Board of Commissioners supported a resolution being circulated around the coastal counties opposing offshore drilling and seismic testing, but the support was not unanimous.

Commissioner Paul Beaumont suggested that more information should be gathered about the pros and cons of offshore drilling for gas and oil before the board takes a position.

When the topic came up at the board’s retreat in January, commissioner Marion Gilbert said the commissioners did not jump on the opposition wagon immediately at that time, but wanted more information before making a difficult decision. She said the board should be applauded for taking time to get educated on the facts and looking at the possible effects on tourism and fishing, adding that she had been contacted by quite a few people urging the board to take its time.

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A citizen also spoke during public comment, asking the board to get the facts, say “yes” to offshore drilling, and support the President’s “Make America Great Again” efforts.

Commissioner Beaumont asked his fellow board members what research they have done since the retreat to better inform themselves about offshore drilling and seismic testing.

“That’s a `gotcha’ question,” board chairman Bobby Hanig told Beaumont, pointing to the importance of tourism to the county, and that drilling offshore is “not a chance I’m willing to take.”

Commissioner Mike Hall said he had talked with commercial fishermen who have seen areas that have historically been good fishing spots no longer producing since seismic testing had been going on close by. Hall said the fishermen produced charts and maps of those former fishing grounds and the seismic testing zones. While he said he didn’t know if the testing was to blame, it was a big concern, and added, “Why put the county at risk?”

Commissioner Mike Payment said he too talked with commercial fishermen about changes they have seen near testing sites, and commissioner Bob White said the people in his district are opposed to offshore drilling and seismic testing.

Commissioner Beaumont pointed out that the leasing process passes through eight “gates” and is only currently at the second gate, but the board can voice opposition at any point. It’s significantly more difficult to say “yes,” Beaumont contended, adding that the board can always say “no” at any point along the process.

He went on to say that the chairman of North Carolina Fisheries Association offered a letter of support for leasing sites, suggesting to keep the door open for negotiations, but to use caution.

Beaumont added that the district’s Republican Party has also supported to continue looking at the leasing program, that he said could bring 116,000 jobs to the region.

Beaumont also said that more than 100 improvements have been added to the safety systems to prevent accidents and that “none of us know the science behind this” and that he was not prepared to decide one way or the other.

Beaumont said that the federal government does not need approval to go forward. Even if Currituck and North Carolina say “no,” Beaumont pointed out that a disaster in Virginia or other points north would have impact here.

Chairman Hanig responded that the board doesn’t have the ability to determine what occurs in other states, but does have the ability to effect what happens in this county and state.

It was a recent Executive Order from the President for the development of a new oil and gas leasing program in the Atlantic that has stirred some coastal communities and states to take action in opposition to that action.

The resolution, that passed 5-1 (not attending was commissioner Mary Etheridge), reads in part:

“…the benefits of seismic testing and offshore drilling, if any, to Currituck County, known as “Sportsman’s Paradise” and critical sanctuary for migratory birds, northeastern North Carolina, or the state of North Carolina, are substantially outweighed by the unacceptable risks of harm to marine life, the coastline environment, property, business, livelihood of county residents, and their quality of life…

“Currituck County hosts visitors from throughout the world who come to enjoy the natural beauty of the county’s clean beaches, Currituck Sound and marshes…should a spill occur, (it) would devastate the county’s natural resources and irrevocably harm the county’s tourism-based economy that relies on clean, healthy waters…

“…it is vital that local and state officials throughout North Carolina and its neighboring states take a unified stand in opposition to offshore drilling and exploration because a mishap in one jurisdiction could negatively impact the coastal environment and economy of adjacent areas…

“…North Carolina has a long history of hurricanes, and deep water drilling off the state’s coast would increase the chances of platform failures and oil spills due to the vulnerability of the coastal waters to severe weather events…

“…coastal communities have historically suffered dreadful consequences of offshore energy exploration and development including the Prince William Sound, victimized by the Exxon Valdez spill, and numerous Gulf Coast communities harmed by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

“Therefore…Currituck County opposes offshore drilling for oil and gas, and associated seismic testing, and urges the President of the United States, the Secretary of the Interior, the United States Congress, the Governor of the State of North Carolina, and the North Carolina General Assembly to oppose offshore oil and gas development policies that risk the health, safety and sound environmental stewardship of North Carolina’s coastline…”