Two camps of birds huddle on rooftops next to the Kure Beach pier, seagulls and pigeons. Their ruffled feathers make them appear bigger than their actual size. They are staying warm in the morning, on a late-winter day. I am their sole spectator.
I recall the words of Jules Verne who thought it to be impossible to be lonely near the ocean because it is “stirring with life,” life that draws folks to its sandy shores.
Kure Beach is my home. I, like other coastal residents, worry about offshore drilling coming to North Carolina. The risk of an environmental accident seems great. Images of pelicans soaked in oil are vivid in my memory even five years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The catastrophic oil spill affected so much and so many.
Last month, concerned citizens were allowed to question Bureau of Ocean Energy Management officials and leave their comments about its draft-leasing program at an open house-style event in Wilmington.
The difference in sentiment between high-profile politicians who welcome big oil along our beaches and coastal communities’ residents, environmentalists, tourism vendors and fishermen is great: We are in two camps, for and against the drilling.
The opinion gap is significant because the federal government ultimately controls the sale of leases in the Atlantic. The Obama administration has made it clear it will allow production where both the public and public officials support development.
Zachary Keith, lead organizer for the N.C. Sierra Club, does not believe that offshore drilling is inevitable. “We’re hoping to mobilize even more people on the coast and around the state to make sure that North Carolina gets excluded from the offshore drilling plan,” he said.
With so many high-profile elected officials supporting offshore drilling along the N.C. coast, I suspect the goal of a statewide drilling exclusion is not realistic.
Gov. Pat McCrory chairs the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition. The group of eight, mostly Republican governors from coastal states was successful in its effort to lobby the Obama administration to open up the Atlantic to offshore drilling.
U.S. Rep. David Rouzer from N.C. District 7 supports offshore drilling. His district covers all of New Hanover, Brunswick and the coastal part of Pender counties. In an email from his office, spokesperson Tyler Foote writes: “Congressman Rouzer supports an all-of the-above energy policy that would help America achieve energy independence.”
North Carolina’s U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr also support drilling on our coast. North Carolina’s high-profile politicians cite the possibility of 55,000 oil-industry jobs.
They seem to discount that the state already has booming tourism and commercial fishing industries. Do they not realize that offshore drilling competes and conflicts with these economic contributors? How can they undervalue their share in our state economy?
“It is very concerning to me that our government … would ignore businesses that provide a thriving tourism industry in favor of an industry which could destroy our coastal environment, in turn destroying lives and futures,” said Tammy Hanson, a Carolina Beach Realtor involved in vacation rentals.
“I think we need to protect the environment and get away from fossil fuels,” said commercial fisherman Scott Pridgen, who fishes at Morehead City and Wrightsville Beach.
The larger question might be about representation. Who are high-profile politicians representing in their jobs as public servants? It seems that most are representing the oil industry and that any opposition to offshore drilling is disregarded, even during a time set aside for public comment.
McCrory recently announced that seismic testing could begin in the Atlantic Ocean within 18 months. Seismic testing is used to assess the amount of recoverable oil in the seabed. McCrory said that plans are being developed if the coastal states’ infrastructures are found lacking. There might be need for new roads and refineries.
Offshore drilling steamrolls forward, and I wonder whether folks who oppose it will truly have a say and be heard.
Kristine Kaiser of Kure Beach periodically writes a “letter from the east” for The News & Observer opinion pages