Date ArticleType
11/30/2017 Member News
How D.C. Impacts Dare County: New Law Would Be Boon For Offshore Drilling


New Law would be boon for offshore drilling

Posted: Tuesday, November 28, 2017 9:00 pm


Federal energy legislation to speed up the process for granting seismic testing permits and potentially open up additional areas for offshore drilling could win approval in the U.S. House of Representatives by Christmas, according to observers. But it is already drawing criticism on the Outer Banks.

The focus of HR 4239 is the promotion of onshore and offshore energy development by simplifying and speeding up the leasing approval process. It comes in the wake of President Donald Trump’s April executive order that reversed Obama Administration policy by restarting the process for offering offshore oil and gas drilling leases in areas including the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic.

In a statement, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) lauded the measure: “These onshore and offshore provisions provide certainty and access to spur investment and job creation through the development of federal lands. With this legislation, we can unlock our vast energy potential, advance American energy dominance and generate revenues at all levels of government."

The International Association of Geophysical Contractors released a statement applauding the committee's decision: "We fully support this practical approach to streamlining processes that ensure critical activities and projects such as offshore geophysical survey permitting for energy and mineral exploration can move forward and enable the U.S. to remain energy secure."

But in an interview with the Sentinel, Dare Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard reiterated his opposition. "Our board has passed numerous resolutions against offshore drilling. And I can't say this enough: I'm opposed to offshore drilling, I'm opposed to seismic testing and I'm opposed to any kind of fracking. We take all the risk and get no reward."

"I continue to be dismayed and disturbed by the progression of this legislation,” added Kill Devil Hills Mayor Sheila Davies. “The desire of legislators to fast track the bill appears to be a flagrant attempt to eliminate the public's opportunity to voice their concern."

Both Dare County and the town of Kill Devil Hills are among about 140 Atlantic Coast communities that have thus far passed formal resolutions opposing offshore drilling and/or seismic testing, according to the environmental advocacy group Oceana.

The controversial process of seismic testing — a key step in determining whether offshore energy drilling is feasible — involves using multiple seismic air gun arrays which emit loud blasts of compressed air through the ocean to search for natural oil and gas deposits.

Critics, who dub the process “seismic blasting,” argue that it is harmful to marine life, while the Department of the Interior counters that it should not have “significant impacts on marine mammal populations.”

The House legislation is designed to reduce regulation of seismic testing and to accelerate granting of permits. It includes such provisions as: discontinuing the current procedure that restricts seismic testing to a specific geographic region; discontinuing baseline assessments and long-term study of the testing's cumulative impact on marine wildlife; and discontinuing the requirement that proposed seismic testing include mitigation procedures and have the “least practicable impact” on marine animals.

Other aspects could open up additional areas to offshore drilling by ending the presidential authority to exclude specified areas of the Outer Continental Shelf from oil and gas leasing and by nullifying all previous exclusions. As an incentive, it also establishes a revenue sharing structure for the Atlantic states and Alaska, calling for the states to receive 37.5% of revenues from offshore oil and gas leasing and development.

But critics characterized the legislation as an "extreme measure" that represents a long list of oil industry "giveaways" that will harm the coastal communities impacted by offshore drilling and seismic testing.

"It's almost a complete 'Christmas wish list' from the oil industry," Oceana Campaign  Organizer Randy Sturgill said, adding that granting offshore drilling leases is a "forever decision" with long-term consequences that will impact generations.

Outer Banks Surfrider Foundation Vice Chair Matt Walker agreed.

“There’s a reason the petroleum industry and its supporters want to rush this legislation and all the  permitting processes,” he said. “Because  history shows another spill is always just around the corner."

The office of U.S. Representative Walter Jones, whose district includes Dare County, did not respond to a request for comment from the Sentinel.