Rally and Speaking to Brunswick County Commissioners to Express Opposition to Offshore Drilling on January 16, 2018
In his presentation to the Brunswick County Commissioners on January 16, 2018, Dr. Dwight Willis stated: "The recent Trump administration decision to allow offshore drilling in previously off-limits areas drew immediate opposition from governors along the East Coast, including Republicans Rick Scott of Florida, Larry Hogan of Maryland, outgoing New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and Henry McMaster of South Carolina and Democrats Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, John Carney of Delaware, Andrew Cuomo of New York, incoming New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, and Daniel Malloy of Connecticut . The only East Coast governor who supports offshore drilling is Maine Governor Paul LePage, but Maine’s two senators and two House members all oppose, All three West Coast governors also made vehement statements in opposition. More than 500,000 fishing families have expressed opposition. More than 150 East Coast communities have expressed opposition.
To Commissioner Patricia Sykes and Commissioner Marty Cooke (both of whom adamantly support offshore drilling off the North Carolina coast), Dr. Willis asked a simple question that deserves an answer: "What Do You Know That All of These Other People Don't Know?"
The evening of the 16th started at 5:00 p.m. with a BEAT-sponsored rally against offshore drilling in the parking lot outside the David Sandifer Building at the Brunswick County Government Complex. With an estimated 200+ participants braving cold weather and flu cases throughout the area, BEAT President Neil Gilbert got the rally started with a welcome, appreciation to all participating, and a rousing audience-joining cheer of "Two, Four, Six, Eight, No Drilling in Our State." He also asked for cheers from people based on local area and found that the crowd was about evenly divided among several local municipalities.
Other speakers including Dwight Willis, Pete Key, Randy Sturgill, and Marty Mentzner provided information to the crowd about seismic blasting and offshore drilling and the history of the issue with the Brunswick County Commissioners. It was clear that the people who came care deeply about the ocean, about our local communities, and about our local economies, and about the natural environment. They also creatively expressed their opposition to the Trump plan's prioritizing oil and gas company profits over the safety and health of our communities.
At 6:00 p.m. the meeting of the Brunswick County Commissioners commenced, and 30 minutes (as is the norm) were allowed for public comments. All of the comments addressed offshore drilling, and all of the comments were in opposition. Several members of the BEAT Board, other BEAT members, and other community citizens addressed several issues, including the misrepresentation by the oil and gas companies of the supposed benefits: lots of local jobs and national energy security, and the potential harms of seismic blasting and offshore drilling, including worsening of climate change, destruction of ecosystems, harm to marine animals, lack of safety for workers, and potentially catastrophic effects for local communities should a major oil spill occur but even very serious harms from routine spills and leaks and the unsightly industrialization and infrastructure used in the drilling and transporting or oil and gas.
Following the comments, Commissioner Thompson made a very articulate and balanced proposal to (a) rescind the 2015 Commission decision to support offshore drilling while (b) giving commissioners sufficient time to read the documents that had been identified and collected by county staff. Commissioner Forte articulately supported the motion and added in his concerns about offshore drilling. Commissioner Sykes affirmed her strong support for offshore drilling. Commissioner Clarke addressed the emotion in the crowd (implying that was the basis for their opposition) and said he would continue to be guided by facts. His support for drilling was also unyielding. Commission chair Frank Williams indicated that this was a very difficult issue for him but that he had decided to support the motion and return the county to a clean slate regarding drilling. The fact that he kept an open mind on the motion and was willing to show respect to those opposed to drilling was appreciated by the audience.
So, is this a victory for the ocean and the environment? Yes! Is this victory permanent? No! At the next meeting of the commissioners (or the meeting after that), the Commission intends to vote again on offshore drilling. It is very likely to again be a 3-2 vote one way or the other. What can opponents of drilling do in the next month?
We should show our support to Commissioners Thompson, Forte, and Williams.
We should continue to show to all of the commissioners that there is both widespread and deeply felt opposition to the county again taking the opposite position than just about every government body on the East Coast.
We should continue to use sound research that offers documentation that oil and gas company statements about the benefits of drilling are exaggerated and mis-stated. We should continue to use sound research to point out the risks and dangers of blasting and drilling. We should challenge factual errors made by drilling supporters.
Finally, going back to the beginning of this section, we need to insist that any commissioner who might vote to endorse offshore drilling please tell us, "What Do You Know That All of These Other People Do Not Know?"