McCrory talks offshore drilling after meeting closed to public

Posted November 6, 2014

— Gov. Pat McCrory told a gathering of state and federal officials Thursday it was time to figure out what kind of oil and gas resources might lie off the North Carolina coast.

The governor was the last in a day-long lineup of speakers that included agencies involved with the regulation of offshore drilling as well as groups with close ties to the petroleum industry.

But aside from McCrory's comments, the entire invite-only event was off-limits both to the public and environmental groups that say they should have at least had an opportunity to listen.

Throughout the day, the officials heard panels and presentations related to the next five-year plan for federal oil and gas leases in the Mid-Atlantic, which may include waters off the coast of North Carolina. McCrory has long advocated for the expansion of oil and natural gas exploration off the state's coast.

In a letter to McCrory and Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla last week, directors of 10 environmental groups requested that state leaders open the meeting to the public and expressed concern over being left out of the dialogue.

"This is pretty big," said Randy Sturgill of Oceana, one of the groups that signed the letter. "The decisions being made are going to affect for generations to come what our pristine beaches and Atlantic waters are going to look like. A lot of folks lives and livelihoods are depending on what's going on behind those closed doors in Raleigh today."

Responding to questions Thursday afternoon, Skvarla said closing the meeting was "a collaborative, collective decision made by several federal agencies and DENR." He would not say which federal agencies were involved with the decision.

"There's going to be plenty of time for stakeholder involvement," Skvarla said. "The process will be done right, but we had serious input from our federal partners, and we collectively decided that would be the best format for the meeting."

In a letter responding to environmental groups, DENR Deputy Secretary Donald var der Vaart wrote that the event was kept invitation-only in part because of concerns from one of the federal agencies over potential conflicts of interest.

"The inclusion of special interest groups and industry would allow for the potential of the appearance of influence on permit application reviews currently underway by the Obama administration," van der Vaart wrote in an Oct. 31 letter.

Yet included on the schedule were panels by representatives from the Center for Offshore Safety, the Institute for Energy Research and the Consumer Energy Alliance.

The Center for Offshore Safety, an oil and gas industry-sponsored group established in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, adopts standards for drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The nonprofit Institute for Energy Research, which focuses on research, has drawn significant funding from oil and gas industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute, according to the website OpenSecrets.org. The Consumer Energy Alliance, which lobbies Congress for more exploration of offshore oil and gas, counts among its members dozens of oil and gas industry groups.

State Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, who attended the sessions Thursday, said presentations from these groups pushed the benefits of offshore drilling and left out many of the potential problems.

"This is a huge issue for our state, and I think we need more balanced participation," said Harrison, who sits on several environmental committees in the legislature. "It would have been nice to have the pros and cons. All we heard were the pros today."

With the federal government currently preparing a draft of the next offshore drilling plan due out January, Sierra Weaver, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said she's concerned federal officials will make decisions without broad input. 

"What we have is state talking to federal government. We have industry talking to federal government," she said. "Yet, people with concerns about the environmental impacts are shut out of the room."

In his letter, van der Vaart said the meeting was not an opportunity for any attendee to "partake in the policymaking process" and that there will be plenty of opportunities for public comment.

DENR spokesman Drew Elliot reiterated that point Thursday afternoon, saying representatives from the industry groups were "issue experts who were able to contribute to this learning experience."

"The people in this room, we're going to have to be the ones who know about this," Elliot said. "We're more or less starting from zero."

During his comments to the gathering, McCrory said the first step toward offshore drilling would be the use of seismic testing to determine what's contained in the Mid-Atlantic's Outer Continental Shelf. That could begin as early as mid-2015, although it's not likely to begin until later.

"Isn't it time we find out what we have?" McCrory said. "Then, once we find out what we have, we'll find out whether it's worth the return on investment for North Carolina."

He said drilling off the coast has the potential to create jobs and boost infrastructure projects in the state. But that's only possible if the state is able to get a portion of the proceeds in a deal with federal officials. 

"It would be difficult to sell this to the North Carolina public unless there is a revenue-sharing plan with the federal government," McCrory said. "If there's no money, none of us win."

Any potential revenue, McCrory said, is likely five to 10 years away.

Moving forward, he said education and communication on the issue would be "80 to 90 percent of our job." Part of that process, he said, means providing similar venues for environmental groups to be heard.

"I will be extremely transparent in these communications, and I think it's going to be extremely important that we meet with all sides of the environmental community, the fishing industry, the infrastructure industry, the oil and gas industry," McCrory said. "We're all going to have to work on this as a team."


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  • Carl Keehn Nov 10, 2014
    user avatar

    It seems to me that the tendency is to claim that there will be sufficient opportunity for public input. Then when push comes to shove, people are informed that the decision is already made and that the window for public comment is closed.

  • Jeff Snavely Nov 10, 2014
    user avatar

    Sorry Pat, all I heard was industry, industry, industry.

    And please... stop quoting Skarva as if he was really a representative of environmental concerns.

  • nerdlywehunt Nov 10, 2014

    Just make sure that you drill off figure 8 island first! Republican transparency....an oxymoron!

  • hi61600 Nov 9, 2014

    The guv will be transparent once ALEC and the Koch Bros have instructed him.

  • Mary Jo Holmes Nov 8, 2014
    user avatar

    Pat tried to dump the coal ash in our rivers; what would he do if their was an oil spill? Dump it in the ocean so our beaches get nice and dirty-there goes our tourist economy!

  • Terry Lightfoot Nov 8, 2014
    user avatar

    dmcall and Others: Apples and Oranges here, don't compare Norway to the US, Norway has a labor-socialist government and their public sector is the largest portion of their GDP of any country in the world. They rely on oil, hydro-electric power, shipping and agriculture - they also have large State ownership of companies. Oil is NOT the magic bullet for economic growth - the US economy is much more complex and diversified than Norways. Oil is part of the equation, but as you see oil SUPPLY from the US has caused prices to drop 25% just this year....if oil reaches $50 per barrel, Exxon , Shell, BP, etc. will CUT production severly to drive the price up again.
    With OIL, you cannot have your cake...and eat it too.

  • ncsense Nov 8, 2014

    View quoted thread

    There is no certainly that oil and gas recovered off the Atlantic coast will come into a N.C. port. Norfolk and Charleston would also be options. If oil/gas doesn't come into North Carolina for processing or transport, it's not clear jobs would come to the state either. If Congress allows east-coast states to receive a % of oil/gas revenue from Atlantic drilling, that would be the most likely source of income to the state. Congress has to authorize revenue sharing first because drilling would occur in federal waters (more than 3 miles off shore) and not state waters.

  • JoeF Nov 7, 2014

    Thanks, McCrory for your transparency. What happens when BP spills millions of gallons on our beautiful shores and then airs fake ads telling us those dead fish and ducks are merely part of Darwin's natural selection. Boo on you, Pat!

  • tracmister Nov 7, 2014

    There seems to be a lot of issues with some people with off shore drilling which sounds similar to fracking. Guess what? Based on the votes across the state there isn't dime one thing you can do about it.

  • I Have a Discernible Chin Nov 7, 2014

    If we could just see 'some' benefit from it, 'any' benefit, I would be for it. However, 'all' the profits will go to the oil companies and the puppets like McCrory who make it easy for them. We'll still get more toll roads, still lag in teacher pay, still lag in help for the poor and elderly, like your parents, and when the spill happens, we'll pay for that too.