Coastal drilling plan gets N.C. ‘no’

Gov­er­nor says such oil, gas ex­plo­ration puts beaches at risk

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM -

AT­LANTIC BEACH, N.C. — Un­der pres­sure from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, North Carolina’s gov­er­nor an­nounced his op­po­si­tion on Thurs­day to drilling for nat­u­ral gas and oil off the At­lantic coast, say­ing it poses too much of a threat to the state’s beaches and tourism econ­omy.

Up against a dead­line to­day for com­ment from elected of­fi­cials on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest for com­pa­nies to per­form seis­mic test­ing un­der At­lantic wa­ters, Demo­cratic Gov. Roy Cooper held a news con­fer­ence at a coastal state park to an­nounce he’ll be reg­is­ter­ing the state’s op­po­si­tion.

“There is a threat loom­ing over this coast­line that we love and the pros­per­ity it brings, and that’s the threat of off­shore drilling,” Cooper said at Fort Ma­con State Park in Carteret County, where he said he vis­ited as a child and as a par­ent.

“As gov­er­nor, I’m here to speak out and take ac­tion against it. I can sum it up in four words: ‘not off our coast.’”

State Repub­li­can lead­ers, in­clud­ing for­mer Gov. Pat McCrory, have pressed for ex­plo­ration both off­shore and in­land through hy­draulic frac­tur­ing. Repub­li­can

leg­is­la­tors have passed laws lay­ing the ground­work for col­lect­ing roy­al­ties from any oil and gas mined be­low the ocean sur­face.

In April, Trump signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der to ex­pand oil drilling in the Arc­tic and At­lantic oceans, re­vers­ing re­stric­tions im­posed by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, and the In­te­rior De­part­ment is rewrit­ing a five-year drilling plan.

A fed­eral agency is now seek­ing per­mits for five busi­nesses to use seis­mic air guns to find oil and gas for­ma­tions deep un­der the At­lantic, de­spite the harm en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists say this tech­nol­ogy does to marine mam­mals. Mary­land Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan also an­nounced his op­po­si­tion this month.

Cooper, who took of­fice in Jan­uary, said an oil spill could

be cat­a­strophic to com­mer­cial fish­er­men and the tourism in­dus­try, which pro­vides more than $3 bil­lion in spend­ing and 30,000 jobs in coastal coun­ties. North Carolina Petroleum Coun­cil Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor David McGowan said off­shore en­ergy could bring thou­sands of new jobs and more lo­cal rev­enue. The gov­er­nor dis­agreed.

“There is lit­tle ev­i­dence that off­shore drilling would be a fi­nan­cial boon for our state,” Cooper said. If drilling does hap­pen, he said jobs and rev­enue shar­ing likely won’t be plen­ti­ful, and he said po­ten­tial cuts to fed­eral reg­u­la­tions also raise en­vi­ron­men­tal risks.

North Carolina en­vi­ron­men­tal groups were thrilled with Cooper’s an­nounce­ment, at­tended by a fa­vor­able crowd of sup­port­ers.

Cooper, the at­tor­ney gen­eral for the past 16 years, said very lit­tle about off­shore drilling dur­ing last fall’s gu­ber­na­to­rial campaign against

for­mer Gov. Pat McCrory.

Cooper’s of­fice said more than 30 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have passed res­o­lu­tions op­pos­ing the drilling and test­ing.

Cooper “lis­tened to all of North Carolina’s coastal com­mu­ni­ties who’ve been call­ing for the pro­tec­tion of our coast,” South­ern En­vi­ron­men­tal Law Cen­ter at­tor­ney Sierra Weaver said in a re­lease. Erin Carey with the North Carolina Sierra Club added the gov­er­nor “sent a strong, clear mes­sage to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try that our coast is not for sale.”

U.S. Rep. Richard Hud­son, R-N.C., a leader in a con­gres­sional cau­cus seek­ing to ad­vance off­shore en­ergy, crit­i­cized Cooper’s de­ci­sion and said en­ergy ex­plo­ration and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion aren’t mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive.

“To put it sim­ply, Gov. Cooper is wrong,” Hud­son said in a re­lease. “This is not an either-or sit­u­a­tion.”

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