News

Joining hands on Ocracoke against offshore drilling

Ocracoke joins Hands Across the Sand at the LIfeguard Beach. Photo by P. Vankevich

Ocracoke joins Hands Across the Sand at the LIfeguard Beach. Photo by P. Vankevich

By Connie Leinbach

Allison Williams and Tony Chambers were happy to participate in the Hands Across the Sand protest of offshore oil drilling Saturday because they’ve had experience swimming in oceans with oil spills.

The two, of Raleigh, were among about 100 islanders and visitors who joined hands at the Lifeguard Beach at noon, and the group was among many others participating on Saturday in the United States and eight countries world-wide to protest offshore drilling, according to Dede Shelton of Boise, Idaho, one of the national organizers of Hands Across the Sand.

In related news, A group of senators introduced a trio of bills Tuesday to open up more areas of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic to offshore oil drilling and to provide more oil revenue for states. For details, visit the Washington, D.C., paper, The Hill, here.

Williams and Chambers are adventure tour leaders that go all over the world. They talked about the balls of oil they’ve seen in the Middle East, particularly in the Strait of Hormuz in northern Oman.

“They look like millions of gel beads in the water,” Williams said, adding that the ships clean their ballast offshore which then floats to the beaches.

She and Chambers conduct ocean kayak tours, rock climbing, hiking and horseback riding tours. The northern part of Oman has a terrain where the mountains meet the ocean, which is perfect for their tours.

A spill first looks like a big slick in the water, Williams said.

“It streaks on you and you have to use baby oil to get it off your skin,” she said. To get oil off kayaks, they must use gasoline, which then also goes into the ocean.

“That’s why I get so angry about offshore drilling,” Williams continued. “I would rather see windmills out there than oil rigs.  An oil rig spill will affect the entire ocean ecosystem. If it’s about jobs, wind energy can provide those.”

Williams said she and Chambers conduct ocean kayak tours from Shackelford Banks to Ocracoke and frequently camp on the beach on Core Banks.

“We don’t like to go to beaches with high-rises and hotels,” she said. “We like this and want to see it preserved.”

Shelly and Eric Stockton of Siler City, vacationing on Ocracoke for the week, had heard about the event in the morning and decided to join in.

“I’m completely against offshore drilling,” Shelly said.

Kitty Mitchell, who organized Ocracoke’s  Hands Across the Sand event in 2010, said Saturday’s turnout was about the same as five years ago.

Mickey Baker, a co-owner of Mermaid’s Folly, who spearheaded the offshore drilling protest 20 years ago and is doing so again since the Obama administration opened the mid-Atlantic seaboard to the possibility of oil exploration, closed her shop to organize the hand-holding.

Islanders and visitors gather at the beach before joining hands. Photo by P. Vankevich

Islanders and visitors gather at the beach before joining hands. Photo by P. Vankevich

“They can never prove to us that they can drill without harming our environment,” she said about the renewed effort that began in March.

As a founder of LegaSea, a Manteo and Ocracoke-based grass-roots group, Baker fought against and defeated a similar plan in the late 1980s, leading to a 20-year moratorium on drilling off the coast.  

The moratorium has recently expired, and the Bureau of Energy Management, an agency in the Department of the Interior formerly known as the Minerals Management Service, has begun the process of exploring the possibilities of offering new leases to oil companies.

Ocracoke members of the original LegaSea group included Baker, Carmie Prete, Ann Ehringhaus and Gary Coye.

Dede Shelton, executive director of Hands Across the Sand whose brother Dave Rauschkolb founded the event in 2009 in Seaside, Fla., was encouraged about the the turnout world wide for drawing lines in the sand.  After the first “hands” event in January 2010, the Florida legislature backed off its approval of offshore drilling there.  Five weeks after that, the BP oil spill occurred off Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico.

“There were 1,000 people on the beach in Miami and 400 in Nags Head,” she said in a phone interview about Saturday’s event. “It gives me encouragement to know there are still passionate people out there.”

She said that the precursor to oil drilling is seismic air-gun blasting which will have a harmful impact on marine mammals and other species.

Next year’s event will be May 14, Shelton said.

For information about the group, visit Hands Across the Sand here.