By David Mickey
An hour after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) Open House Scoping Meeting for offshore oil and gas drilling began, more than 200 people had signed in. By 7 p.m. when the meeting ended, 670 had registered.
The Outer Banks meeting in the Ramada Inn, Kill Devil Hills, regarding their 5-year plan (2017-2022) for off shore oil and gas development in the Atlantic Ocean, was added to BOEM’s schedule after a request from U.S. Congressman Walter Jones. The number exceeded the 400 people who showed up at BOEM’s meeting in Wilmington last month.
Next door to the Ramada at the Comfort Inn, activists filled the conference room to hear local speakers ranging from students to local mayors voice their objections to the federal government’s program that could allow offshore oil and gas development. Ocracoke was well represented with a large banner and received a loud cheer from the audience. At least a dozen islanders from Ocracoke made the trip.
Several environmental groups including Oceana, the NC Coastal Federation, Sierra Club and the NC League of Conservation Voters were there to collect signatures on petitions and encourage people to comment on the Bureau’s proposal.
Following the speeches, the crowd moved to the beach for a large group photo next to the ocean. As they posed on the beach with the ocean in the background, a small plane towing a banner that read “OIL DRILLING IS BAD FOR BUSINESS NOTTHEANSWERNC.ORG” circled overhead.
The scoping meeting served as an opportunity for citizens to ask questions of BOEM officials and to provide comments either in writing or online.
BOEM suggests that comments focus on specific local environmental impacts and include supporting evidence. Economic impacts, as well as social and cultural issues, are also considered in the formal Environmental Impact Statement. In the meeting room, a video on the scoping process ran continuously. Tables with information handouts where BOEM representatives explained the draft program were arranged around the room.
This is the first of two opportunities for public comment and it ends on March 30.
The first document is officially titled the “Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the 2017-2022 Oil & Gas Leasing Program.” After revisions based on additional data and comments received, a “Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement” will be published sometime in the spring of 2016.
At that time another 45-day comment will allow for additional comments. As of now, no public hearing is planned. Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), public comment opportunity is required; public hearings are not. At a public hearing, all interested parties are given the opportunity to make a public statement in addition to their written comments. Hearings generate much more media interest and public awareness of the issues. Spokesmen for NEPA and BOEM indicated at yesterday’s meeting that they would consider the option of a public hearing when the final draft is released next year.
Meanwhile, applications for permits to conduct seismic testing are being processed at the state and federal level now. The North Carolina Division of Coastal Management is currently reviewing three applications for consistency with the state’s rules. BOEM’s final decision to move forward with seismic testing in the Atlantic was made in July 2014. Testing will begin before any decisions on oil and gas leases are made.
Information about BOEM, their energy development programs and how to comment can be found on their website at: http://boemoceaninfo.com/