Michael Regan, secretary for the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, stopped by downtown Wilmington for a listening session Wednesday morning to discuss oil drilling and seismic testing off of North Carolina's coast.
Mayors, public health leadership, and county commissioners were among those in attendance at the invitation-only meeting.
The discussion centered around a Trump administration proposal in January that would give energy companies the green light to begin offshore oil drilling and seismic testing in the next few years on most of the U.S coastline, including North Carolina's coast.
Everyone who spoke was opposed to offshore drilling and seismic testing, which is a technique using sound waves to search for oil before drilling.
“Seismic testing and offshore drilling go hand in hand. Both are very intrusive," said Regan.
The public comment period ends March 9, giving local and state leaders only two more days to submit feedback to the Trump administration.
“We are adamantly opposed to offshore drilling," said Regan. "We should have three additional public comment periods and have that federal delegation come down, spend time with the locally elected officials and hear exactly what we’re hearing. ... This is not good for the environment, not good for the economy.”
Primary points discussed were that the possible economic benefits of offshore oil drilling are low for North Carolina while the risk is high to the environment and fishing and tourism industries.
Regan said he was saddened the Trump administration has not spent time on the NC coastline to talk with local leaders.
“We have about a $3 billion tourism economy that supports about 30,000 jobs along our coast," Regan said. "The jobs that offshore drilling would bring in are minimal. Many of those jobs would not be jobs that would go to North Carolinians."
“We are a tourism-driven economy in New Hanover County. There are so many folks who come here for our beaches, our historic downtown," said Jonathan Barfield Jr., Democratic commissioner with New Hanover County. "To have a spill off our coast, what would it do to that industry, No. 1, but also to those folks who depend on the ocean to earn a living.”
“I just think most of us who live here, and our economy and tourism industry, and the people who do make a living from the sea, the cost of jeopardizing far outweighs the benefits on the other end," said Patricia Kusek, Republican commissioner with New Hanover County.
Regan promised the state would sue the federal government if NC and local officials are not given a choice in the decision to drill for oil in NC's coastal waters.
“Once the Trump administration decides which direction it will go, we will contest any outcome that does not advantage North Carolina," said Regan. “This is a bipartisan issue. It’s an economic issue. It’s a natural resource issue. There was a unanimous voice here that offshore drilling and seismic testing is not good for North Carolina. It’s just not worth the transaction cost.”
Congressman Robert Pittenger released the following statement concerning offshore drilling:
“American energy independence is vital to economic growth and national security, and that should include environmentally-responsible drilling where appropriate. Despite today’s hand-wringing by the Cooper Administration, President Trump sent Interior Secretary Zinke to visit with Governor Cooper and coastal representatives in early February. We must consider all the facts of environmentally safe extraction of LNG 40 miles from our coastline and not be restricted by alarmist hyperbole from groups with a political agenda.”
Copyright 2018 WECT. All rights reserved.