Atlantic Beach, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday that state officials will let the Trump administration know North Carolina is opposed to oil and gas drilling off the state coast.
Last year, the Obama administration approved a five-year drilling plan that didn't allow offshore exploration off the Atlantic coast. But President Donald Trump recently reversed that stance, reopened the plan and put North Carolina back on the list for potential offshore drilling.
Friday is the deadline for states to submit a response to the federal government regarding seismic testing, which is used to find potential oil and gas deposits under the ocean floor.
"Our coast is part of our identity," Cooper told a crowd at Fort Macon State Park, near Atlantic Beach.
He noted that coastal tourism brings in about $3 billion a year and is responsible for about 30,000 jobs. The commercial fishing industry generates another $95 million a year, he said.
"There is a threat looming over this coastline that we love and the prosperity it brings, and that's the threat of offshore drilling," he said. "I can sum [my stance] up in four words: Not off our coast."
Offshore drilling would bring more risk than potential benefit to North Carolina, Cooper said.
An oil spill would devastate the coastal environment and economy for years, he said, and the Trump administration is eliminating regulations that provide some safeguards against spills.
Meanwhile, other energy alternatives, such as solar and natural gas, are cheaper and plentiful, making it unnecessary to explore for oil in the Atlantic Ocean, he said. Also, North Carolina would likely see little revenue from any drilling.
"It is simply not worth it, North Carolina. It is not worth it," Cooper said.
Scientists have long said it's unlikely that there's much oil or gas to find off the coast, and 30 coastal communities and about 200 businesses have come out in opposition to drilling.
"To put our communities first and to protect our coast as well as our economy, I am saying no to seismic testing and offshore drilling," Cooper said. "This place, this coastline is part of who we are. It is our duty to protect it."
Supporters of offshore drilling criticized Cooper, saying it can coexist with tourism and fishing and would bring in additional jobs to the region.
Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, tweeted, "Breaking news @roycoopernc tells eastern North Carolina to drop dead."
Republican 8th District Congressman Richard Hudson, co-chairman of the Atlantic Offshore Energy Caucus, said Cooper's opposition to offshore drilling is misplaced.
"This is not an either-or situation. We can open North Carolina to energy exploration and development while protecting our beautiful coastal waters as well as our tourism and ocean industries," Hudson said in a statement. "Despite Governor Cooper’s announcement, I will continue to work to get North Carolina into the energy business to unlock good-paying jobs and strengthen our energy security."
Trump signed an executive order in April to expand offshore drilling, meaning that the federal government could lease sites more than 3 miles offshore for drilling without the state's permission.