Putting himself at odds with President Donald Trump, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced he does not want the federal government to allow oil and gas exploration or production off the state’s coast.
Cooper’s position marks a reversal of policy from his predecessor, Gov. Pat McCrory, who favored oil and gas exploration off North Carolina’s portion of the Outer Continental Shelf.
“I can sum it up in four words: not off our coast,” Cooper said at a July 20 Atlantic Beach, North Carolina press conference. “It is simply not worth the risk.”
Cooper, a Democrat, spoke the day before he submitted formal comments opposing offshore oil and gas exploration and production off North Carolina’s coast to the U.S. Department of Commerce on July 21, the last day for elected officials to comment on the Trump administration’s request for companies to perform seismic testing in Atlantic waters. Cooper said the risk of oil spills affecting local ecosystems, the tourism industry, and commercial fishing was the reason he rejects oil and gas development.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, also a Democrat, has expressed support for offshore drilling as long as his state gets a share of royalties from any oil and gas production.
Trump Executive Order
In April of this year, Trump issued an executive order authorizing federal reviews of offshore drilling sites. Trump’s action reversed former President Barack Obama’s 2016 energy plan placing Arctic and Atlantic waters off-limits to oil and gas exploration.
It is now up to the U.S. Department of Interior to decide whether to allow the energy exploration. Among the factors the department will weigh are the position of the governor, interest from energy companies, environmental impact, and the location of the drilling sites in relation to the nation’s energy markets.
Public opinion in the affected area of North Carolina is divided on the issue. More than 30 coastal communities have passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling, but in 2015 the governments of two coastal counties, Carteret and Brunswick, approved resolutions in support of drilling after the Obama administration announced it was studying the issue.
At an August 7 public meeting hosted by North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality in Wilmington, Daniel McGowan, executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum Council, spoke in support of allowing offshore drilling.
“Embracing our nation’s offshore energy potential would bring enormous benefits to North Carolina,” said McGowan. “Our state is uniquely positioned to add thousands of additional jobs and increase local revenue through safe and environmentally responsible energy development.”
‘Gov. Cooper Is Wrong’
U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), leader of a congressional caucus advocating offshore energy development, criticized Cooper’s decision. He says energy exploration and environmental protection aren’t mutually exclusive.
“To put it simply, Gov. Cooper is wrong,” Hudson said in a press release. “This is not an either-or situation.”
State Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Eden), who also supports expanded Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas production, told Associated Press he is glad Cooper does not have final say over drilling in federal waters.
“If we listened to liberal politicians like him, we would still be dependent on energy resources from dictators in Russia, the Middle East, and Venezuela,” Berger said.
Dave Stevenson, director of energy competitiveness at the Caesar Rodney Institute, says oil and gas development is a potential boon to North Carolina and other states.
“Expanded oil and gas production has boosted the economies of states like Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas, creating tens of thousands of jobs and billions in tax revenues,” Stevenson said. “The United States has become much less dependent on foreign oil, a big advantage at a time of upheaval in many oil-producing countries.”
Compatibility with Tourism
Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, says oil and gas development and tourism are compatible.
“Residents of coastal North Carolina are rightly proud of their beautiful beaches,” Rucker said. “Texas, too, has popular beaches, stretching from Louisiana south to the Mexican border.
“Vacationers flock to those beaches while well beyond the horizon, enormous amounts of oil are extracted from the energy-rich Gulf of Mexico,” said Rucker. “Oil and gas production, done right, does not hurt coastal tourism.”
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.