President Donald Trump on Friday issued a memo that extends a ban on new oil and natural gas testing and drilling leases off the coast of North Carolina between 2022 and 2032.
But there are questions about whether the order impacts applications already being reviewed by the federal government to conduct seismic testing or drill exploratory wells along the outer continental shelf off the southeast Atlantic coast.
The memo addressed to the Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is similar to one issued earlier this month for the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida coasts.
At a rally Friday night in Newport News, the President said he would also be adding the waters off Virginia.
U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R) said in a statement issued last Monday that he had spoken with the President earlier in the day, and was informed that North Carolina would be included in the memorandum prohibiting leases for offshore development between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2032.
“We, as a board, are extremely pleased that the President put the memo out on Friday,” said Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard. “We’ve passed numerous resolution in opposition over the years, making it clear our opposition to seismic testing and drilling.”
“I’ve gone to Washington, hosted Sen. Tillis’ staff, spoken at rallies in Raleigh against it,” Woodard said. “The risk is not worth the reward for our tourism-driven economy.”
“This is great development, for Nags Head and North Carolina,” said Nags Head Mayor Ben Cahoon last week following Tillis’ announcement. “I am incredibly grateful for the passion and diligence of every mayor, commissioner, county official, environmental advocate, and the many others, who have been pushing to protect our coast.”
“It’s good the President finally appears to have listened to the bipartisan voices of North Carolinians who for years have been fighting this administration to stop oil drilling off our coast,” Governor Roy Cooper (D) said in an emailed statement Monday. “I will stay vigilant and ready to resume the fight in the event the federal government makes any move toward offshore drilling.”
Other drilling opponents say they are optimistic, but some questioned the timing of the announcement and whether Trump would change his stance again on testing and drilling if he is reelected.
“The President seems to be playing politics with our ocean and coasts, announcing half-hearted protections one campaign rally at a time,” said Oceana Action campaign director Diane Hoskins.
“Every east and west coast Governor requested protections from the president’s drilling plan, and he’s just now promising to protect a handful of states, weeks before the election,” Hoskins said.
Coastal Review Online reported last week the Department of Justice filed a document with the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Charleston Division, stating that Trump’s memorandum “has no legal effect” on the status of the applications to conduct seismic surveys in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf that are pending before the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
“If Trump were remotely serious about protecting Florida and the Carolinas from offshore drilling, he wouldn’t be allowing oil exploration along the coast,” Kristen Monsell of the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund said in a statement. “This Justice Department filing underscores the appalling emptiness of Trump’s election-year effort to hoodwink voters. Seismic testing’s sonic blasts harm whales and other marine life, and they set the stage for future drilling and devastating oil spills.”
The court has scheduled a status conference for Oct, 1, Monsell told Coastal Review Online in an interview Thursday.
The groups suing the federal government contend that seismic testing could harm dolphins, whales and other animals. The plaintiffs contend that the seismic testing will occur around the “world’s densest population of acoustically sensitive beaked whales off North Carolina’s Outer Banks.”
Earlier this month, WesternGeco announced it was withdrawing an application to conduct seismic testing off the coast of North Carolina and other states for potential oil and natural gas.