Wrightsville Beach, NC – Despite a winter storm, hundreds of North Carolinians attended a public hearing on Tuesday to voice their opposition to the Obama Administration’s plan to open up the entire North Carolina coast to offshore drilling. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which is responsible for managing offshore energy development in federal waters, organized the hearing.
Concerned citizens, including elected officials, business leaders, public health professionals and environmental organizations voiced a number of concerns related to oil drilling off of our coast. The biggest concern was the impact that an oil spill could have on the coastal economy, which is largely driven by the tourism industry.
“As a boat captain and owner of Cape Fear River Adventures, I depend on tourists,” said Charles Robbins. “They come here to enjoy our beaches, our exceptional bird breeding grounds, our great fishing, the turtles laying their eggs on shore, civil war ships on the ocean floor, and a plethora of other interests. This industry has proven itself to be one of the most dangerous in existence, so I cannot think of any logical reason to drill off the shore of North Carolina.”
The President’s decision to open up the Atlantic coast to drilling comes as we approach the five-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. That spill dumped more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and communities are still feeling the effects.
“I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I remember when tar balls began to wash up on the beaches I’d spent my childhood on,” said Liz Kazal, field associate for Environment North Carolina. “My parents still live on the Gulf, and five years later, their community is still reeling from the disaster.”
In addition to economic impacts, investing in oil and gas exploration at the expense of clean energy sources like wind and solar power threatens our public health. According to the most recent National Climate Assessment, continued reliance on fossil fuels will lead to more heat-related illnesses, and increased emergency room visits and lost school days from asthma and other respiratory diseases.
“As a physician, I take my professional responsibility to be a guardian of public health very seriously,” said L. Kyle Horton, MD. “I have seen a dramatic increase in the prevalence and severity of asthma that is related in part to the burning of fossil fuels and the impact of a warming planet on environmental allergens. Having worked in the ICU and emergency room, you need only see one child on a ventilator or struggling to breathe to want to do everything you can to prevent worsening environmental triggers for this disease.”
Every five years, the federal government decides where to allow drilling off the U.S coast. The next five-year plan starts in 2017, and will run through 2022. In addition to holding forums to gather public input, BOEM is collecting public comments online, through the Regulations.gov website. The speakers today urged every North Carolinian who loves coming to the coast to ask the Obama administration to remove North Carolina from the upcoming five-year plan.
“I love the ocean so much,” said Ethan Crouch, chairman of the Cape Fear Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. “I can’t imagine putting our ocean and beaches at risk from the threats of offshore drilling.”