A report by a North Carolina-based research center claims the Trump Administration's proposal to open much of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans could endanger the environment and the health of coastal communities.
Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center's December report said the expansion of offshore drilling off North Carolina's coast will endanger public health. Its reliance on onshore pipelines, waste disposal facilities, ports and refineries pollute the air, water, and threaten wildlife and ecosystems.
In December 2016 the Obama administration issued a permanent offshore drilling ban along the Atlantic and Arctic coasts to try and set a precedent for environmental protection in the future. But in January 2018, the Trump administration announced a plan to reinstate offshore drilling practices along both American coasts, proposing to open 90 percent of previously restricted American coasts to offshore drilling.
Offshore drilling is a process that typically involves drilling into coastal or near-coastal waters in search of a valuable commodity, normally a fossil fuel. The report found that drilling could pose environmental costs to the state.
"Further onshore, pipelines may be routed away from urbanized areas, which might mean going through pristine natural areas. In North Carolina, for instance, many undeveloped coastal areas include nature preserves or state parks," the report said.
This decision by the Trump administration allowed planning for the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program) to continue. This will allow the United States to become more self-reliant, said David Livingston, deputy director of climate and advanced energy at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center.
“There is a significant opportunity to harness America’s abundant, renewable energy potential on public land,” Livingston said at a conference event in 2018 with Trump administration officials.
Despite the project's potential, Jean-Luc Duvall, campaign director for Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center, urges the public to consider how offshore drilling will impact coastal communities.
“When we think about offshore oil drilling, we tend to forget about the onshore infrastructure needed to support this intrusive industry,” Duvall said. “These pipelines can also fail and spill oil.”
The report detailed an example from 2015, when a rupture in an onshore pipeline in Santa Barbara, California led to the spilling of over 120,000 gallons of oil. Oil from that spill was found in Los Angeles, more than 80 miles away. The spill killed nearly 100 mammals and about 200 birds, and local beaches and fisheries were left closed for months.
“It’s just something that we don’t want to see in North Carolina,” Duvall said. “Offshore drilling has been fought by a lot of coastal communities over the years for almost 30 to 50 years.”
Kevin O’Grady, a long-standing member of the Wilmington City Council, has been a part of that fight for a little over ten years now.
“A great deal of the economy of southeast North Carolina depends on tourism, and we depend upon the beauty of our natural beaches, and we don’t want to see it getting spoiled,” O’Grady said.
Gov. Roy Cooper published an offshore drilling fact sheet in 2017 detailing just what these effects might be. It said coastal counties rely on tourism to generate more than $3 billion in visitor spending, support more than 30,000 jobs and raise $300 million in state and local tax revenue.
In December 2018, Cooper led a bipartisan effort to oppose the offshore drilling proposal of the Trump administration. In a signed letter, ten east coast governors said they wanted to “reiterate our strong opposition to seismic airgun surveys and oil and gas drilling off our coasts.”
“I think the damage and destruction that we have seen along the Gulf Coast demonstrates that it would be a real negative for our area,” O’Grady said. “There isn’t any direct economic benefit that would be received. Most of the money and profits from offshore drilling would not remain here.”
While the Trump administration continues to push this agenda forward, local and state-level leaders along the entire East Coast have continued to voice a strong opposition to offshore drilling practices in North Carolina.
“The administration is somewhat in a holding pattern because of the outspoken voices of coastal communities and those that support them,” Duvall said. “We expected last January for them to come out with the final plan regarding offshore drilling, but we haven’t seen that yet and we don’t expect to see it this year."
If this final plan is released, a public comment period, during which people can protest the plan, will immediately go into effect.
"We don't see the plan coming out anytime soon," Duvall said. "It would be kind of striking if it did, especially given that it is an election year and that can leave some people vulnerable."
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