By Connie Leinbach
Mickey Baker is happy that she can put away her “no offshore drilling” stickers, signs and T-shirts for another five years.
The U.S. Department of the Interior on March 15 announced a decision to exclude waters off North Carolina from a new oil and gas leasing plan.
The Proposed Program for 2017-2022 evaluates 13 potential lease sales in six planning areas–10 in the Gulf of Mexico and three off the coast of Alaska. None are scheduled in the Mid- and South Atlantic Program Area.
This was a decision based on strong local opposition, current market factors and conflicts with competing commercial and military ocean uses.
“Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia told their governors they oppose offshore drilling,” Baker said about the peoples’ response.
While Baker personally delivered a petition with 1,300 signatures against offshore drilling to North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, he was unmoved and touted the potential for jobs and revenue from offshore exploration.
“President Obama’s total reversal can only be described as a special political favor to far-left activists that have no problem importing energy resources from countries hostile to the United States,” McCrory said in a statement after Tuesday’s decision.
Baker, co-owner of Mermaid’s Folly, is among many locals breathing easier.
“I am extremely relieved that President Obama came out to discourage offshore drilling off the Atlantic Coast,” she said Wednesday.
Baker was one of the founders of LegaSea a Manteo- and Ocracoke-based grass-roots group in the late 1980s responsible for getting a 20-year moratorium on Atlantic offshore drilling. Ocracoke members of the original LegaSea group included Baker, Carmie Prete, also co-owner of Mermaid’s Folly, Ann Ehringhaus and Gary Coye.
“We worked so hard on this issue for five years in the late 1980s,” she said. “We got the moratorium and we could rest for 20 years.”
Then it came up again when the Obama administration announced that it was opening up sections of the Atlantic off the southeast coast for oil and gas leases and released a draft proposal in January 2015.
Despite this apparent capitulation to oil companies, Baker said she believed Obama had other ideas in the back of his mind.
“I totally believed in him because he’s a community organizer, and I felt he knew that we—the people—would (be the ones to show opposition),” she said. “He’d leave it in the peoples’ hands.”
And the people spoke by the millions, mostly via social media.
“So, now he (Obama) sees that there is a huge ton of people against offshore drilling and he can say ‘I can’t let this happen. The people have spoken,’” she said.
A lot more of those people were young people, Baker said.
“I was very happy there were so many youth fighting it,” she said, since they will have to take up this fight.
For Baker and the others on the Outer Banks 20 years ago, there was no Internet connecting people instantly, and climate change was not an issue.
“We went to Washington, D.C., and learned from Greenpeace how to talk to the Congressmen,” she said. “This year, mass media blew it out of the water.”
Baker kept all of their signs from 20 years ago and will put the signs away for now.
Because the fight is not over, said Dede Shelton, executive director of Hands Across the Sand when contacted Friday.
“(The new moratorium) is only for five years, and there’s still seismic blasting on the table,” she said. “Oil companies want to gain that data. So, I don’t think we can stop.”
Moreover, she said, there will still be leases for sale in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska, she said, and Peru is in peril as well as many other countries.
Baker will have to trot out her Ocracoke Island banner on Saturday, May 21, at 11 a.m. for this year’s event.
Kitty Mitchell, the Ocracoke School art teacher who organized last year’s 15-minute event at the lifeguard beach, said she will organize it again this year.
Shelton is happy about that.
“Hands Across the Sand is more important now than ever,” she said.
For information about Hands Across the Sand, click here.