A high-level meeting scheduled in Raleigh next week for government officials to discuss offshore drilling will be off-limits to the public and to journalists.
As the closed-door meeting approaches, North Carolina environmental groups who hope to block offshore energy exploration are urging Gov. Pat McCrory to at least allow all stakeholders to attend and listen.
“We are deeply concerned about this closed door meeting and the exclusion of North Carolinians from an important dialogue that will directly impact the state’s coast as well as the livelihoods and quality of life that depends upon it,” the environmental groups wrote Thursday to McCrory and to John Skvarla III, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, or DENR.
The Nov. 6 meeting, organized by DENR, will focus on energy exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf, with a closing speech by McCrory entitled “Responsible OCS Energy Development.” McCrory has repeatedly said he supports offshore oil drilling and offshore wind farms to supply the nation with domestic energy resources and the state with job opportunities.
The Outer Continental Shelf meeting will be “unprecedented” because it is being organized by a state government rather than by federal authorities, said DENR spokeswoman Crystal Feldman.
In its response to the environmental groups, DENR wrote Friday that the meeting is closed to outsiders in deference to “a participating federal agency.”
“The inclusion of special interest groups and industry would allow for the potential of the appearance of influence on permit application reviews currently underway by the Obama Administration,” wrote DENR Deputy Secretary and Energy Policy Advisor Don van der Vaart.
“Therefore, the joint decision was made to limit the invitation list to federal and state agencies and elecdted officials to avoid any potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest,” van der Vaart wrote.
The groups that want to open up the meeting to the public are: Cape Fear River Watch, Clean Air Carolina, Environment North Carolina, N.C. Coastal Federation, N.C. Conservation Network, N.C. League of Conservation Voters, N.C. Sierra Club, Oceana, Southern Environmental Law Center and Western North Carolina Alliance.
“Despite your administration’s support for offshore drilling, there are many North Carolinians who value our beaches and coastal marshes for the non-fossil fuel natural resources they provide,” the groups wrote. “We believe that the South Atlantic should be excluded from the 2017-2022 leasing program.”
The final decision on opening up the Outer Continental Shelf to offshore drilling is up to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, an office within the U.S. Department of Interior. That process is ongoing, involves public comment and will take at least several years.
BOEM officials will attend the Raleigh meeting, but will not make policy decisions there, Feldman said.
The “Mid-Atlantic OCS Oil & Gas Five Year Program Meeting” will feature speakers from at least four federal agencies and will cover the major elements of offshore exploration, according to an agenda provided by Feldman. Topics include potential conflicts, accident risk models, socioeconomic impact and revenue sharing.
The last category, revenue sharing, refers to state government interest in receiving a portion of the lease revenues that energy developers will have to pay to explore ocean waters owned by the federal government.
The federal agencies on the agenda includes BOEM, Department of Defense, U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Other speakers come from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Center for Offshore Safety, Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, Consumer Energy Alliance and the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.