Tillis needs to stick up for coast, oppose offshore drilling


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Last week, Sen. Thom Tillis sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, noting the "potential economic benefits coming from offshore energy production" but also noting the economic importance of North Carolina's tourism and fishing industries. In his letter he requested "more details about specific actions your agencies are taking to safeguard long-standing industries in our coastal communities.”

While we appreciate the senator's newfound interest in how drilling and seismic testing could impact our vital tourism and fishing industries, with all due respect, the information he seeks has been available for quite some time. Coastal tourism in North Carolina supports over 30,000 jobs and generates more than $3 billion in annual revenue. Commercial and recreational fishing in the state support an additional 22,500 jobs and $787 million in revenue each year. Where offshore drilling exists in the U.S, between 2001 to 2015, there were over 700 offshore petroleum spills that discharged at least 4.93 million barrels. One of the primary causes was hurricanes. The fact is, drilling is inherently risky and there is no way to guarantee against spills.

We would be remiss if we did not note that Sen. Tillis’ first speech on the Senate floor in 2015 was a passionate call to open up our coast to offshore exploration and drilling. We understand that opinions can change when presented with new information but this change of heart needs to yield real action, not just further inquiry. With the Trump administration set to release its outer continental shelf-leasing plan in the coming weeks, which could result in drilling off North Carolina's beaches, now is the time for serious action to protect our pristine coast.

We hope that Sen. Tillis, as well as Congressman David Rouzer and the rest of the delegation who have not announced opposition, acknowledge the dangers that drilling and seismic testing pose to our coast. We hope they will stand up for the 30-plus municipalities along the North Carolina coast who have passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling and seismic testing. And we hope they will follow the example of the late Congressman Walter Jones, who listened to the overwhelming and vocal concerns of his constituents instead of the demands of powerful special interests, the oil and gas industry, and those within the Trump administration who seem determined to ignore the will of the people and proceed with this destructive plan.

Editor’s note: The letter was signed by the following: Drew Ball, director, Environment North Carolina; Randy Sturgill, senior campaign organizer, Oceana; Matt Walker, co-chairman, Outer Banks Surfrider Foundation; Ben Cahoon, mayor, town of Nags Head; Rett Newton, mayor, town of Beaufort; and Bob Woodard, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners.