WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite strong opposition from East Coast governors, several dozen lawmakers and the Defense Department, the Department of the Interior Thursday released its proposed five-year draft plan to open up most U.S. outer continental-shelf waters, including off the North Carolina coast and some protected areas, to oil and gas exploration and drilling.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management had identified 47 possible areas where industry companies can buy leases in the draft National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, or National OCS Program, for 2019-2024.
While oil and gas industry groups embraced the new five-year plan, a wide range of state officials and conservationists were quick to come out in opposition.
“Offshore drilling represents a critical threat to our coastal economy. Protecting North Carolina families and businesses is my top priority, and we will pursue every option to prevent oil drilling near North Carolina’s beaches, coastal communities, and fishing waters,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement.
Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan also released a statement on the plan. “Offshore drilling and the seismic testing that would precede it pose environmental and economic risks to North Carolina’s coastal communities that we cannot afford,” Regan said Thursday. “Protection of our beaches, sounds and marine life is vital to ensuring a robust coastal economy.”
The group Oceana said the administration’s proposal would put large multi-national corporations ahead of coastal residents and healthy ocean-dependent economies. “This plan opens the floodgates to dirty and dangerous offshore drilling, threatening coastal economies that rely on clean and healthy oceans,” Oceana campaign director Diane Hoskins said in a statement.
Zinke said in the announcement that 155 members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate sent letters to the secretary in support of a new five-year plan “that recognizes America’s potential for energy dominance.”
Zinke said during a news conference that there is nothing final with the draft program and that states, communities and congressional delegations will be able to provide input before the proposal is finalized in the coming months.
A series of 23 “open house” public meetings have been scheduled on the draft plan, including one set for 3-7 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Hilton North Raleigh/Midtown, 3415 Wake Forest Road, Raleigh.