A proposal to open off-limits federal offshore areas to drilling was announced on Jan. 4 by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
The new five-year plan is a continuation of the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, or the National OCS Program.
Under the proposal, over 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf acreage would be made available for potential oil and gas lease sales, including North Carolina’s coast. Currently, 94 percent of the OCS is off-limits, and there are no existing leases in the Atlantic Ocean.
According to the Department’s statement, opening up these offshore areas would free up more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in these federal offshore areas.
In July, 36 Republican senators, including North Carolina Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, signed a letter in support of further offshore drilling under the National OCS Program. The letter stated, "Offshore leasing benefits the economies of all of the states, helps reduce the federal deficit, provides affordable energy to families and businesses and strengthens our national security.”
An emailed statement from Sen. Tillis’ office expressed the senator’s support for the plan, saying, “While Sen. Tillis is supportive of oil and gas exploration along the Outer Continental Shelf with some conditions, he believes the decision should be ultimately left to states.”
The statement also said coastal communities should be given the opportunity to benefit from any revenues that could be derived, particularly when it comes to beach renourishment, dredging and conservation funds.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott received an exemption for his state one week after the plan was announced. On the exemption, Zinke tweeted a portion of his statement, “I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”
Scott’s exemption was met with backlash from other states that also depend on coastal tourism. California Rep. Adam Schiff replied to Zinke’s tweet, saying, “Dear Secretary Zinke, California like Florida, has hundreds of miles of beautiful coastline and a governor who wants to keep it that way. Or is that not enough for blue states?”
Governors of both South Carolina and North Carolina are opposing the plan and requesting exemption from the proposal.
In a letter addressed to Zinke on Jan. 10, Gov. Roy Cooper said North Carolina is dependent on coastal tourism and that the proposal would damage the coastlines of North Carolina and the nation.
Cooper said, “I have told your Department before and will share again in formal comments, offshore drilling threatens North Carolina’s coastal economy and environment, yet offers our state little economic benefit.”
Cooper ended the letter reiterating his request to schedule a meeting or phone call to discuss the proposal.
Professor Richard Andrews, a faculty fellow with the UNC Institute for the Environment, said the excavation process the offshore drilling would entail would create problems for wildlife, as North Carolina is on major routes of passage for marine animals up and down the coast.
“And the bigger problem is that if there were ever to be serious development of oil resources off the North Carolina coast, it’s not just that they’re developing them offshore, it’s that you’ve got to have all the onshore facilities to process the oil and so forth,” Andrews said. “So we’d be talking about a future really industrializing a portion of the North Carolina coast that right now is quite heavily focused on tourism and recreation of its own natural beauty.”
In December, the Interior Department suspended a study by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine on the safety of offshore drilling.
Andrews said the plan is still uncertain and very contentious. He mentioned a similar effort by the Obama administration to open up offshore areas in the Atlantic, which was abandoned after strong state, naval and public objection.
“Once you start investing in the infrastructure, it’s pretty hard to retreat from that,” Andrews said.
Public meetings across the country began on Tuesday, in which comments on the DPP can be made. More information can be found here: http://bit.ly/2CDC8xy.
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