The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources hosted the meeting in Raleigh with Gov. Pat McCrory in attendance. Members of the media were allowed to participate in a Q&A session with McCrory at the end of the meeting.
“Increasing availability of natural gas will strengthen our economy and contribute to economic prosperity for decades to come,” McCrory said in a statement explaining the purpose of the meeting.
Several environmental groups requested to be present, but Crystal Feldman, energy spokeswoman of the N.C. DENR, said in an email all industry representatives and special interest group requests were denied.
“The agenda and format was collectively developed by participating federal and state agencies,” she said. “No attendee was directly employed by industry.”
Under North Carolina’s Open Meetings Law, gatherings of public bodies are “official meetings” and must be open to the public when hearings, votes or deliberations are occurring, though informal meetings of members of a public body don’t have to be open.
Employees from both the Southern Environmental Law Center and Oceana said groups representing oil and gas companies were at the meeting to discuss the possibility of oil drilling on Atlantic coastlines.
Claire Douglass, campaign director for Climate and Energy at Oceana, said they were told the McCrory administration didn’t want to be biased toward one side.
“Then later we find out that members of the oil industry were present, so obviously that was very disappointing to see the governor organizing such a meeting,” she said.
Sierra Weaver, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said N.C. residents should be concerned about the potential of a similar environmental event to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
She said offshore drilling would increase the water and air pollution that comes from oil and gas development.
The center wrote two letters expressing concern that the environment and N.C. residents were not being adequately represented, Weaver said.
“Our main objective is to make sure that the decision-makers in Washington, D.C., hear from local citizens and others who are concerned about the environmental impacts,” she said.
She said federal agencies should hear interests outside of the governor and his administration.
“Our concern is a fundamental change to the North Carolina coast that could negatively impact tourism, it could negatively impact fisheries, it could negatively impact fundamentally the way of life people live out in the Outer Banks.”