Administration lays the groundwork for offshore oil and gas drilling with faux “public hearing”
There are so many reasons not to introduce offshore oil and gas drilling along the fragile North Carolina coast that it ought not to be even a close call. Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming weight of the evidence and the widespread opposition of the rank and file North Carolinians most likely to be directly impacted by such a scheme, the bizarre three-ring circus that is the administration of President Donald Trump is plowing ahead and laying the groundwork for what could, quite likely, be an economic and environmental disaster of epic proportions.
As Policy Watch Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg explained last week, the most recent development in this sordid saga was the so-called “public hearing” that Trump administration officials in the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held last week in Raleigh. The particulars of the event provided a classic example of the Trump administration at its plutocratic worst.
Of the hundreds of people who crammed into a public hearing Tuesday on offshore drilling, only a few veered into a small, quiet suite, where they would be served a buffet dinner and waited on by their personal bartender. The American Petroleum Institute, under the guise ‘Keep Exploring North Carolina,’ held a low-key reception for about 20 drilling supporters, most of them decked out in suits or cocktail attire.
The shindig was hosted by API and Thom Goolsby, a former lawmaker from New Hanover County and a longtime advocate for — and beneficiary of — the energy industry. However, Goolsby had no interest in speaking publicly about the cause that he champions.
He escorted Policy Watch from the room, saying, ‘This is a private event.’
Asked if he’d like to talk about offshore drilling, Goolsby replied, ‘Not really.’
But directly across the hall, the 400 or so opponents of offshore drilling who packed into three ballrooms were very interested in discussing it. Many had arrived by bus, from towns along the Outer Banks, Morehead City and Wilmington, because the US Department of Interior had declined to hold a hearing on the coast. So they made the three-hour trip inland, only to find that the structure of the “hearing” resembled a science fair, and that Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management officials would answer questions, but accept their comments only online.”
Yes, you read that correctly. In a real world scene that bore a striking resemblance to something that one might expect to encounter in a Saturday Night Live parody, hundreds of average citizens from the coast were forced to bus all the way to Raleigh – only to be told that they wouldn’t even receive a chance to speak in public. Meanwhile, a small cadre of oil and gas industry apologists milled nearby in a fancy private reception. The only thing that was missing was some sort of official statement from the Trump administration expressing its desire to hear only from “winners” and not to be bothered with the opinions of “losers.”
One more time: The arguments against
While the obvious inequities of the access enjoyed by the two sides in the debate and the blatant ways in which the Trump administration is clearly attempting to rig the process (the Raleigh hearing was the sole North Carolina event the Department of Interior officials have bothered to have on the subject), are enough to instill a sense of hopelessness about the issue, it’s important to remember that the truth still matters.
Whether it’s in legislative halls, the federal and state courts or merely in the court of public opinion, it remains vitally important that those who would tell it like it is with respect to offshore drilling continue to speak out loudly and plainly.
Here for the record, therefore, are several of the key arguments that deserve to be voiced repeatedly in the weeks and months ahead:
The threat to the coast itself – Notwithstanding the frequent assurances of the fossil fuel industry to the contrary, there are really only two basic rules when it comes to offshore oil and gas drilling. Rule Number One is that spills will happen, and Rule Number Two is that humans can’t change Rule Number One.
Sadly, the record is replete with hundreds upon hundreds of oil spill incidents throughout the decades that have, over time, decimated and remade for the worse vast swaths of global coastline. Though it wreaked havoc on a massive and perhaps unprecedented scale, the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster is more the norm than the exception.
What’s more, it’s not just the spills that are so destructive. The hard truth of the matter is that it takes an industrial and transportation infrastructure to support an offshore drilling scheme. The fossil fuels that are recovered don’t just magically get turned into gasoline in people’s fuel tanks. It takes refineries, pipelines, and seagoing tankers to transport and transform them into usable products. And all of these infrastructure items, in turn, have their own – often destructive – impact on the wellbeing of the coast.
If you doubt this, do a web search sometime and compare images of the Louisiana coastline with that of North Carolina’s as it presently exists. That the North Carolina coast is already incredibly fragile and gravely endangered by climate change and the storms and rising seas associated with it only makes this matter more urgent.
The threat to sea life and the natural environment – And, of course, it’s not just humans who will suffer from the transformation of North Carolina coast. Oil and gas development will have a potentially devastating impact on marine life that is also already endangered – both as a result of spills and development and as a result of the industry’s underwater testing that would precede it. As Sorg reported last week:
The science is clear on the detrimental impacts of seismic testing on aquatic life. The noise, which to humans would be deafening, occurs in rapid bursts and continues for hours. It can travel 2,500 miles — equivalent to the distance from Raleigh to San Francisco. It interferes with fish and sea mammals’ navigation. It stresses them, shutting down their reproductive activity. And recent science shows that even plankton, minute organisms that form the basis of the food chain, could be damaged.”
The threat to the economy – The dangers to North Carolina’s current coastal economy and the two driving forces behind it (tourism and the fishing industry) are painfully obvious. Clearly, whatever threatens the health of the oceans, threatens the fragile tourism meccas that adjoin it and the fragile fishing industry that relies upon it.
That’s why people like veteran commercial fisherman Chris McCaffity of Morehead City traveled to last week’s Raleigh event and voices his concerns. And it’s why Sheila Davies, mayor of Kill Devil Hills, told Sorg that “there is not a mathematical equation that makes the risk of offshore drilling equal to our tourism revenue. It makes no sense.”
The threat to the planet – And, of course, if there’s a true elephant in the room when it comes to all new forms of fossil fuel exploitation, it’s a little matter called survival of life as we know it. Simply put, the time for all nations to move with great alacrity toward a green, post-fossil fuel economy has long since passed. If we want to minimize the destructive impact of climate change and pollution, it’s absolutely essential that we move as quickly as possible to rapidly substitute solar, wind and other forms of sustainable energy for fossil fuel power.
If the Trump administration would devote half as much of the effort that it has put into clinging to fossil fuels into rapidly deploying green alternatives, there might just be a chance to make a real difference.
The bottom line
As in a lot of areas in the era of Donald Trump, the near-term future can look rather bleak at times on the offshore drilling front. Fortunately, however, the fight is far from over and there is no way that speaking up can hurt.
Comments are still being accepted on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management website until this Friday March 9. Click here and on the big blue button on the page that pops up to submit your own. What’s more, the debate will continue beyond this Friday – online, in social media, at public meetings and town halls, in newspaper letters to the editor sections, and in this year’s elections. Caring and thinking people who care about more than the price of gas or summer air conditioning would do well to stay engaged.