At LWV forum, residents urged to lobby legislators
"You will think you're listening to a preacher," said Craig Merrill, Dare League of Women Voters (LWV) natural resources director, as he introduced Dare Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard to the audience. "He is very passionate about this."
The event was a Feb. 27 program on seismic testing and offshore drilling sponsored by the LWV and held at the Kill Devil Hills Commissioners Meeting Room. With the Trump Administration signaling its desire to drill for energy in the waters off the Atlantic Coast, Woodard warmed up the crowd with his argument against that idea.
Reviewing details of the 2004 spill in the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricane Ivan — one set to become "the worst oil spill in U.S. history" with its destroyed wells still not capped — Woodard declared: "Why did this happen? The problem is hurricanes - and we're going to have them."
Stating that he is "one hundred percent supportive of the United States of America being energy independent," Woodard cited multiple resolutions passed unanimously by the Dare Board opposing offshore drilling and seismic testing in an effort to defend the Outer Banks' "economic engine - our $1.2 billion tourism industry" that is based on the area's "pristine beaches."
The program was held in the wake of a preliminary injunction filing on Feb. 20 by multiple communities and environmental groups suing to block seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean. It also followed the North Carolina Coastal Federation's announcement that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is expected to hold an open house meeting regarding the proposed 2019-'24 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program on May 14 at the Ramada Plaza in Kill Devil Hills.
Speaker Michael Flynn, Coastal Advocate for the Coastal Federation, addressed the noise levels of seismic testing, a controversial practice used as a precursor to offshore drilling. He said the noise level of a seismic airgun blasting in the water is 185 decibels - 100,000 times louder than the 140 decibel level of a jet taking off.
To illustrate the impacts of those blasts, Flynn recalled speaking with "a gentleman who had worked on one of those [seismic testing] boats, and he said mortality could occur if you fell off the ship and one of those blasts went off. The concussion from one of those blasts could kill you."
The five Geological and Geophysical (G&G) companies that have been granted Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) to go ahead with seismic testing in the Atlantic, Flynn said, are planning 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week blasting at intervals between 10 and 60 seconds for time periods ranging from four or five months to a year.
Due to the military being a "huge player in North Carolina," Flynn explained that some offshore areas are not being made available for seismic testing and possible lease sales, and some have restrictions due to military needs. One of the few areas with no exclusions, Flynn added, is "right off the Cape Hatteras National Seashore."
The Coastal Federation has joined with eight other environmental organizations in challenging the IHAs, Flynn said, noting that a focus of the suit is that the federal government "looked at each applicant individually, and they didn't look at all five comprehensively and the effect of conducting five surveys concurrently." A similar suit was filed by 16 South Carolina municipalities and small business organizations, and the two suits were consolidated.
Commending N.C. Governor Roy Cooper for his "great leadership" and for joining other East Coast governors in opposing the administration’s proposed drilling program, Flynn said the N.C. state legislators could be more supportive and should be contacted by coastal residents. But he emphasized that ultimately the national plan is "a federal policy and issue, so contacting Senator Tillis and Senator Burr and our representatives would provide the most benefit."
Nags Head Mayor Ben Cahoon echoed those sentiments, noting that the most effective action is securing "representatives in Washington who will be very vocal in our behalf in opposition to this, especially if they are of the party in power." He recommended "focusing your attention" on the special election to be held this summer to fill the Third U.S. Congressional District seat held by the late Congressman Walter Jones.
For his part, Woodard told the Sentinel in an interview that he had invited U.S. Senator Thom Tillis and his legislative assistants to visit Dare County to hear first-hand from "stakeholders" why they adamantly oppose drilling and seismic testing off the coast. A tour of the area's "pristine beaches," Woodard added, would show "what we could potentially lose if we have an oil spill."
He added: "We have to somehow, some way get the whole coast from Florida to Maine moving and going and have thousands — hundreds of thousands — of people gather in Washington, D.C. to say, 'Not off our coast!'"