Hundreds turn out for federal meeting on offshore energy development

The Homer Ferrington gas drilling rig, operated by Noble Energy and drilling in an offshore block on concession from the Cypriot government, is seen during President Demetris Christofias' visit in the east Mediterranean, Nicosia November 21, 2011. REUTERS

RALEIGH — A federal meeting on offshore energy exploration in Raleigh on Monday brought North Carolinians on both sides of the issue to offer their position. The meeting with the federal agency is among more than 20 public comment gatherings with one held in each coastal state.

“We have to have some sacred ground somewhere, and I would contend for a lot of people it’s walking on that beach, looking at that ocean,” said Mark Hooper, a commercial fisherman from Carteret County who spoke at a press event during the meeting.

“We understand the need to insulate families from the market volatility associated with heavy reliance on foreign energy,” said the Rev. Gilbert Parker, president of the N.C. Faith Fellowship Foundation who supports allowing energy development. “We also see the potential impact of new jobs for North Carolina’s working families, and we understand the opportunity to meet the nation’s energy needs on our own terms, not subject to the negotiation and duplicity of those who mean us harm.”

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held the meeting in N.C.’s capital to talk about a proposal allowing leases to develop oil and gas reserves in the 7.2 million acres off of N.C.’s coastline in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The region is currently off-limits in the five-year leasing plan that expired in 2017. The proposal is to include N.C. in the next five-year leasing plan. If N.C. is included, it is estimated to mean 55,000 jobs for the state and $4 billion to the state economy by 2035.

However, a group of 13 environmental groups from the eastern part of the state said the federal meeting should have been held near the coast. They organized opponents to travel by charter buses from Wilmington, Nags Head and Morehead City to go to Raleigh for Monday’s meeting.

“The federal government picked Raleigh to hold the open house event for the new lease plan for offshore oil and gas development,” said Mike Giles of the N.C. Coastal Federation. “This decision seems to be a direct effort to suppress the voices from the coast who would be most affected by this destructive activity.”

More than 30 coastal communities in N.C. have passed local resolutions opposing seismic blasting and offshore drilling. Don’t Drill N.C. is coordinating efforts in opposition saying that offshore energy exploration puts N.C.’s wildlife and natural resources at risk, along with 50,000 tourism-related jobs and the $2 billion coastal tourism industry.

“We shouldn’t prioritize oil company profits over coastal businesses,” the group said. “Offshore drilling would threaten our identity as North Carolinians — our coastal environment, economy and quality of life.”

The N.C. Energy Forum — a cooperation of of N.C. organizations ranging from veteran’s groups to faith-based groups and economic development experts — was also at the meeting saying that there is a fundamental misunderstanding on the safety and importance of energy exploration for national security and economic independence. They say the vast energy resources in N.C. have tremendous potential for the state to create economic independence for millions.

“Being able to access more energy resources off the coast of our state could create more reliable and affordable energy for North Carolina’s consumers and families,” David McGowan, executive director for the North Carolina Petroleum Council. “With industry best practices and regulations that have been adopted, offshore exploration is safer now than it has ever been.”

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s public comment period closes on March 9.