News

Hyde commissioners oppose offshore drilling; more residents speak out

Ocracoke County Commissioner Tom Pahl, left, and Hyde County Manager Bill Rich at the March 5 commissioners meeting via videoconferencing. Photo by C. Leinbach

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By Connie Leinbach and Peter Vankevich

The Hyde County Commissioners March 5 unanimously passed a resolution to oppose oil drilling off the Atlantic coast. See below.
The resolution followed a public hearing for those to voice their opinions about the Trump Administration’s opening the Atlantic for oil drilling leases following a 20-year moratorium.

With this resolution, Hyde joins 30 other North Carolina counties and communities opposing offshore drilling.
Several islanders spoke but no one from the mainland. Hyde County sent the resolution to Regan, Gov. Roy Cooper, Oceana and the N.C. Coastal Federation.

The hearing preceded the monthly county commissioners meeting, which is held in the county government center in Swan Quarter and which is teleconferenced to Ocracoke.

All the speakers at the March 5 meeting noted the devastating effect an oil spill would have—on the beaches all along the coast, the fishing industry, tourism—should there be an accident on an oil rig out in the Atlantic.
Tom Pahl, Ocracoke’s county commissioner, noted that there are other places to drill for oil other than the fragile ocean where spilled oil cannot be easily contained.

“An oil spill in the ocean, and especially the Gulf Stream, immediately starts to dissipate and spread out,” he said. “It’s vastly different from a spill on land. The negative repercussions on land are different from the negative repercussions in the ocean.”

Though he voted for the resolution, Benjamin Simmons III, the Fairfield commissioner, pointed out that he likes to be able to turn on his vehicle and asked where will we be economically when gas is $5 a gallon?
“Every time we vote against something we’re just making us have less and less,” he said.

Among the speakers, Bill Jones said he and his wife, Lida, understand the challenges of living in a small, isolated place along the Atlantic hurricane zone.

“What we did not expect was the growing and ongoing battle Ocracoke has with the political world,” he said. “In the 10 years we’ve lived here, we’ve waged a constant fight with the state over issues of free access to the mainland…that every resident of this state enjoys.

“We’ve struggled with proposed legislation that threatens the commercial fishermen for the sake of sport fishing. We’ve even struggled with the National Park Serve over lifeguards on our beaches in the summer. And now we are struggling with the prospect of offshore drilling which could bring oil to our beaches…which could ultimately bring an end to the community we call home.”

Sue Dayton, an island business owner, said she had cornered an oil industry executive during an offshore drilling meeting in Nags Head and asked him what the risk of an oil spill from a rig offshore would be.
“He said, ‘Very likely,’” Dayton told the commissioners. “An oil spill (in the ocean) has no borders. It’s too scary to even think about. It would be death to this island.”

Darlene Styron, another island business owner whose husband, Ernest Doshier, is a charter boat captain and part-time commercial fisherman, said offshore drilling is just too big of a risk for the island, the mainland—which heavily depends on the fishing industry—and coast.
“Tourism and fishing go hand-in-hand,” she said.

Although Pahl asked if anyone was in favor of offshore drilling, no one came forth.

Islanders fill the Community Center for an offshore drilling hearing Feb. 20 with Michael Regan, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. Photo by Peter Vankevich

The Ocracoke speakers echoed several others who spoke out against offshore drilling during a hearing Feb. 20 with Michael Regan, N.C. Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality, who visited Swan Quarter to receive comments, including Ocracoke via videoconferencing, which drew more than 50 people at the Community Center on short notice.

“I’m here on behalf of Gov. Cooper and here to tell you we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you in opposing offshore drilling,” Regan said.

“I’m here to have a conversation with you and people living along the coast so we can position ourselves to protect our economy and natural resources,” he said, noting that almost all the governors on the East Coast were opposed to drilling. “We should want to continue to preserve our natural resources. Both (drilling and seismic testing) pose a threat to the way of life as we know it. Seismic testing can cause fish mortality and change aquatic behavior and reduce the catchability of many of the species of fish that commercial and recreational fishermen rely on for sources of income.”

Word had spread the previous morning via social media and local news outlets that Regan would like to hear the views of Hyde County residents on offshore drilling the following day at 2 p.m. That morning he met with Dare and Currituck County officials.

On Ocracoke, Pahl provided an overview of the issues. In Swan Quarter with Regan was Hyde County Commissioners Chairman Earl Pugh Jr. and Assistant County Manager Kris Noble and some members of the public. About 12 people presented their views.

Among all the speakers, the following are highlights:

Janey Jacoby was first to speak and her full statement may be read here.

Mickey Baker, who has lived on Ocracoke for 35 years, noted she was vice president of LegaSea, a group that opposed offshore drilling by

Mickey Baker speaks at the offshore drilling hearing Feb. 20. Photo by Peter Vankevich

Mobil Oil in the late 80s and early 90s. They were successful in getting a  a 20-year moratorium against drilling. .

“It’s refreshing to have you here to listen to our concerns,” she said, adding she was ready to resume the battle now.  Baker noted how toxic drill mud, fluid used to aid the drilling of boreholes into the earth sea floor, can be to creatures that swim through it. She warned of the consequences if it interacts with Sargasso seaweed, an important food source for many animals.

Patty Johnson Plyler, manager of Ocracoke Seafood Co., said she represented the commercial fishermen of Ocracoke.

“We are struggling with various issues now and don’t want to deal with an oil spill,” she said. “We want to preserve our fish, our fishermen and our community. ‘We have one ocean, said (Attorney General) Josh Stein.’ I would add let’s preserve it.”

Pat Garber said the offshore of North Carolina is a migratory route for several species of whales, including the endangered Right Whale.

“Whales can be affected by seismic testing as well as oil drilling,” she said. “I’m a former wildlife rehabilitator and have worked with oiled birds and have seen how heartbreaking it can be.”

Finley Austin wanted to put on record that there is finite amount of fossil fuels on our planet, and we need to look at alternative and renewal energy sources which also create jobs.  Currently there is a lot of fossil fuel oil on the market at very good prices.  So, drilling doesn’t seem like a good national policy to risk a very delicate environment all up and down our Eastern Seaboard, she said.

Regan agreed and said the governor is committed 100 percent to renewable energy and the administration is working towards transitioning away from fossil fuels.

“We are looking for a strong, clean economy and technology market, and a whole host of issues will drive that future and that is why offshore drilling is a backwards look, not forward,” he said. “It is not good for the environment or the economy and is not good for North Carolina to stay globally competitive.”

The fast-moving Gulf Stream should be a high consideration, said Danielle Creeksong.

“If South Carolina or Florida has a spill would it affect us?” she asked. “For lack of research we have no means of knowing if it will arrive in one large mass or travel up to Massachusetts or go around and hit the United Kingdom.”

Comments from both hearings were transcribed by Hyde County and forwarded as official comments to the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM), said Kris Noble, Hyde County assistant manager.