Interior chief meets with Cooper, local opponents to drilling

By on February 5, 2018

Susie Walters, Bob Woodard, Gov. Cooper on left. Sec. Zenke, right with hands out. (@SecretaryZinke/Twitter)

Coastal government leaders, including a contingent from Dare County, along with Gov. Roy Cooper and others, reiterated their opposition to the Trump Administration’s effort to expand potential offshore exploration for oil and natural gas off the North Carolina coast in a meeting with U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke .

Joining the governor and Zinke at the meeting inside the Executive Mansion in Raleigh on Saturday were Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard, Nags Head Mayor Pro Tem Susie Walters and former Nags Head mayor and current chair of the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission Renee Cahoon.

The group stressed that offshore drilling would put North Carolina’s $3 billion coastal economy, 22 barrier islands and millions of acres of estuaries at risk.

Zinke said last month that Florida has been removed from consideration for seismic testing and exploratory offshore drilling, which has prompted leaders in every other state on the Atlantic Coast to ask for the same consideration.

“Secretary Zinke was very receptive and said he fully understood our angst about the potential devastation that could be brought to the Outer Banks,” Woodard said in phone interview Sunday afternoon.

All who attended the meeting noted that North Carolina’s opposition from the grassroots level, through local governments and state leaders, has been bipartisan for the most part.

“We made it clear we were united in our opposition to drilling,” Walters said. “We could not recover from an oil spill and we should not do anything that could cause harm to our nation’s first National Seashore, which belongs to all.”

“I think they listened to our concerns and I am cautiously optimistic,” Walters told the Outer Banks Voice Sunday.

But there are still those in Washington, including both U.S. senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, and Reps. George Holding of Raleigh, David Rouzer of Johnston County, Ted Budd of Davie County, Robert Pittenger of Charlotte, Richard Hudson of Concord and Mark Walker of Greensboro who have been open about allowing North Carolina to be included in oil and gas exploration.

More curiously, no leaders from the North Carolina General Assembly attended the first meeting on Saturday, and some actually held a gathering with Zinke separately.

The News and Observer reported Zinke did most of the talking during the meeting with members of the N.C. House. Speaker Tim Moore issued a statement Saturday that his chamber “will maintain a collaborative approach to our state’s energy policy.”

“Sec. Zinke said in Florida it was a very united front, but he pointed out that was not true in North Carolina,” Cahoon said.

“(Gov. Cooper) said there is pretty much unanimous opposition in the eastern part of the state, but when you head to the Piedmont and the mountains, there is much more support for drilling,” Cahoon told the Voice in a phone conversation Sunday.

“Given the amount of revenue produced on the coast, and the fact that the BP oil spill was twice as much as North Carolina’s annual budget, if you aren’t going to get any revenue from it, I don’t understand why anybody is supporting it,” Cahoon said.

Woodard said Zinke agreed to consider requests to extend the public comment period by 60 days on the proposal and add public hearings in Kill Devil Hills, Morehead City and Wilmington.

Cahoon said there were no promises made about holding the additional meetings. An open house-style forum has been scheduled for Feb. 26 in Raleigh.

“I appreciate Secretary Zinke taking the time to come to North Carolina to hear our concerns about offshore drilling off of North Carolina’s coast, but I was clear that today’s meeting cannot take the place of public hearings and a visit in our coastal communities,” Gov. Cooper said in a press release.

East Carolina University coastal geologist Stan Riggs noted that the depth of the ocean canyons off North Carolina and the often-volitile weather patterns would make it much more difficult and expensive for companies to try and run operations there.

According to Woodard, Zinke said Saturday that drilling companies seem to be leaning more toward expanding their operations in the states that are already currently producing oil.

Woodard brought up studies showing there is more untapped potential for domestic production in those areas.

“I mentioned that we have the largest shale oil deposits in the world in those areas,” Woodard said. “We are pumping more oil than we can refine in the United States, and we need to streamline the permitting process to allow for refining in those areas that are already producing oil.”

Also attending the meeting were N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Michael Regan, Atlantic Beach Mayor Trace Cooper, New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple, Careret County Chamber of Commerce President Tom Kies and Dave Timpy, a fisherman and former member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Woodard and Cooper both called on residents to share feedback on the proposal with the Interior Department at (202) 208-3100.

At least 30 coastal communities have passed resolutions opposing drilling, joining hundreds of businesses and a bipartisan group of North Carolina’s Congressional delegation.

Gov. Cooper sent a letter on Jan. 20 requesting not only the additional meetings, but the same exemption that Zinke had granted to Florida.

Dare commissioners passed a resolution last month asking for the additional public input opportunities, and are expected to take up another on Monday focusing on the potential negative economic impacts of drilling on the tourism-based local economy.

Walters said that Nags Head leaders have passed seven resolutions in opposition to drilling snce 1989, and will likely pass another one at their meeting on Wednesday.

“Additionally, we are sending a very detailed letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to include scientific data to support our argument,” Walters said. “Our state and federal representatives will receive a copy also.”

“We are steadfast in our opposition to oil and gas drilling as well as seismic testing,” Walter said about those at the meeting. “So, we will continue to talk with our elected and appointed representatives about this extremely important issue to make sure our voices are heard.”


  • Carter McKay

    I wonder how many attendees arrived by a SUV, truck, car, van, etc. that’s powered by gasoline? Nothing irritates me more than a hypocrite!

    Monday, Feb 5 @ 4:48 pm
  • Thinking About The Future

    Excellent but we must keep up the pressure. Thanks so much for keeping this story alive here on the OBX Voice!

    Monday, Feb 5 @ 8:26 pm
  • WombatNC

    Re Carter
    Hypocrites! Oh you mean like supporting a President who…….
    makes fun of prisoner’s of war like John McCain (didn’t really mean it), brags about cheating on his wife (locker room talk), signs a tax reform bill that drives up the Federal deficit by billions (?), cheats on his wife with a porn star (Liberal Media lies), etc.
    Just because you drive a car and oppose offshore drilling off the NC coast, doesn’t make you a hypocrite, it makes you an concerned citizen who cares about our local economy. I’m curious Carter, why do support drilling off of NC? Do you think it will HELP our local economy? Try doing some research, other than Exxon, FAUX nooz or Breitbart; and while you’re at, stop drinking that Cool-Aide they’re feeding you.

    Tuesday, Feb 6 @ 7:51 pm
  • YiLi

    So anyone against this take a moment, write to Tillis and read his absurd reply.
    And Carter I hear you but keep in mind available oil, reserves and the increased supply from fracking has available oil for several generations. US oil reserves even without foreign oil is in its heyday
    However, forward thinking is to up the ante and lower cost for alternative fuel vehicles. In only a few years distance has improved and costs have declined
    Also alternative fuel vehicles are less likely to be manipulated with refinery outputs. Every oil well does not necessarily refund to vehicle gasoline.
    And yes why so many people driving SUVs and pick ups who have no need for the vehicle and could easily transport in a 4 cyl coupe or sedan.
    This might be a moment to educate not denigrate

    Tuesday, Feb 6 @ 8:51 pm
  • Cheryl A Hahn

    I do not support drilling and I believe that each state should have the right to address the concerns and be allowed to be removed from the consideration!! We have property on the coast and we love our beaches!! Look at Alaska and what that oil spill did for their people and their economic . It took years to rectify that spill . We may be still seeing effects from the New Orleans spill on the trauma to our wildlife. I found a dead banded brown pelican ,which I ask someone near it to call it in< that I would believe may have come from that region. Sea turtles sick and dead. of money to fix that kind of tragedy!!! The answer is ,NO, for me!! Thank you Governor Cooper and all who are fighting for our future!!!Also, would someone please address the chemical contamination in the Cape Fear River by the chemical plant!! I found what believe two whooping cranes and two brown pelicans dead on Holden Beach and was told that several cranes had been found dead in only a few weeks . This was the week after Christmas!!

    Sunday, Feb 11 @ 7:43 pm