When The News & Observer hosted last month’s Community Voices forum, the big question on everyone’s mind was how will the new composition of the North Carolina General Assembly affect this year’s session? The issues facing our legislature range from gerrymandering to Medicaid expansion and teacher pay. But one issue looming on the horizon did not receive any attention: offshore drilling.
While there was discussion of environmental issues, such as the effects of climate change on sea level rise and the destruction caused by extreme weather such as Hurricanes Florence and Michael (not to mention Hurricane Matthew), no one brought up questions about the legislature’s plans to address the U.S. Department of the Interior’s draft proposal that would open North Carolina’s waters to offshore gas and oil exploration.
For decades, the coastlines of North Carolina and other Atlantic states have been protected by federal policies preventing offshore drilling. However, in January 2018, the Department of the Interior released a proposal that would open up the entire coastline to extraction and degradation. Drilling will not only threaten the way of life of our coastal communities and the wildlife they live in harmony with, but also endanger the recreation industry that brings in valuable tourism revenue for the state every year.
Since the New Year, seven state legislatures along the East Coast have proposed bills to prohibit or restrict offshore drilling in their states in addition to the four states that have already passed their own measures in 2018. Many of these localized bills have been filed in conjunction with legislation at the national level to prevent offshore gas and oil infrastructure development.
Even before the drills start spinning, environmental damage occurs during the seismic testing phase of exploration planning, during which sonic airguns are fired to detect pockets of oil beneath the ocean floor. These airgun bursts are disruptive to wildlife behaviors and patterns, as well as drastically increasing the mortality of zooplankton, an important segment of the food web.
Oil and gas infrastructure is particularly susceptible to damage from extreme weather conditions. With the wounds of this past hurricane season still fresh, the Southern Environmental Law Center published a report last fall highlighting the dangers and risks of constructing gas and oil infrastructure in hurricane-prone regions.
Coastal communities have repeatedly made it clear that they do not want the oil industry invading their waters. By having our representatives and senators both at the state and national levels speak out and act on our behalf, we can show our support for the protections that make going to the beach so enjoyable.
The message the administration’s offshore drilling plan sends is a scary one: American land is open for business, no matter the environmental costs.
DOI is expected to release its second draft proposal soon with a public comment period of three months after its release. During that time, it is critical that we and our elected leaders make our voices heard and take a stand on an issue that will impact our environment for decades.
Jean-Luc Duvall is the campaign organizer for Environment North Carolina’s efforts to block the Department of the Interior’s proposed plans for offshore drilling.