The North Carolina Coastal Federation awarded 31 local governments Pelican Awards for passing resolutions against offshore oil and/or seismic surveys, which involve the use of sonic waves to search for oil and gas beneath the ocean floor.
With the exception of three inland local governments, all are located in coastal towns and counties. These local governments passed the resolutions because they understood that allowing offshore drilling might cause irreparable damage to valuable coastal environments and economies for possible short-term economic gain.
The Town of Beaufort accepted the award on behalf of all the local governments at the federation’s annual Pelican Awards event in Beaufort on Saturday.
“I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen so many local governments unknowingly band together in one direction like this on non-monetary or state type of revenue issues,” said Beaufort town manager Charlie Burgess in an interview after the event. “It’s great to be a part of it.”
Eddie Barber, the mayor of Emerald Isle, shared a similar sentiment.
“It just shows what we can do when we all work together. It was the average citizens trying to protect the coast, that’s what was so amazing to me,” he said on Sunday. “That’s what came across (Saturday) night.”
In January 2015, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released its Draft Proposed Program for 2017-2022 for offshore oil drilling in waters off the U.S. coasts. For the first time in 30 years, North Carolina’s offshore waters were potentially open to offshore oil and gas development.
Just a little more than one year later, in March 2016, BOEM announced it removed the North Carolina coast from consideration for offshore oil drilling.
In its announcement, BOEM cited local resistance as one of the reasons it decided to remove the North Carolina coast from consideration. By passing the resolutions, the 31 local governments helped galvanize public interest in the issue and ultimately played a huge part in protecting the coast and preventing a potential disaster similar to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which would ruin beaches, kill fish and harm coastal economies.
Even though most of the governments that passed these resolutions were based in counties that typically vote majority Republican in major elections, Gov. Pat McCrory said in a statement on March 15 that the federal government’s decision to remove the North Carolina coast from its 2017-2022 plan was a “special political favor to far-left activists.”
But in many coastal towns, the potential risk offshore oil drilling could pose to the coastal environment and economy outweighed any potential benefit, as tourism is the second-largest industry in the state. Burgess also said there was never much talk about direct economic gain to people living on the coast.
“I don’t think it was right or left or a blend down the middle, I think it was no matter where you lined up, it never appeared to me — at least here in Beaufort — that was ever something that seemed to be party-based,” Burgess said. “And granted, Carteret County seems to be pretty strong Republican, but that was a non-factor I think in this regard. It was totally a decision made on the present and the future of the quality of the environment, I believe, and not being willing to risk that.”
In an interview at the event, Mayor Emilie Swearingen of Kure Beach also said that the risk to the coastal environment and economy was too high and noted that it was unlikely the oil industry would have brought many jobs to the state.
Kure Beach was the hundredth municipality on the East Coast to pass an ordinance against offshore oil drilling. In 2013, the former mayor of the town had supported offshore oil drilling, and the town reversed its position in January 2016 after Swearingen was elected.
“While standing in the audience while the town of Kure Beach town council reversed their earlier support for offshore oil, the energy and passion of the hundreds of people crowded in their town hall made me proud to be part of this passion to protect our coast,” said Mike Giles, coastal advocate at the federation’s Wrightsville Beach office.
Swearingen said even residents who typically voted Republican voted against the former mayor because of his decision on offshore oil.
“They moved (to Kure Beach) because of the beaches, and to give them up to politics — it wasn’t worth it,” she said.
The 31 local governments that won awards are: Atlantic Beach, Bald Head Island, Beaufort, Belville, Carolina Beach, Carolina Shores, Carrboro, Caswell Beach, Cedar Point, Chapel Hill, Dare County, Duck, Emerald Isle, Holden Beach, Holly Ridge, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Kure Beach, Manteo, Morehead City, Nags Head, Oak Island, Ocean Isle, Orange County, Southport, St. James, Sunset Beach, Surf City, Swansboro, Topsail Beach, Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach.
The federation opposes offshore oil and seismic surveys because of the potential damage they could cause to coastal environments, wildlife and economies. For more information, visit nccoast.org/oil and nccoast.org/seismic.