- Published on Wednesday, 22 January 2014 19:17
- Written by Super User
The Kure Beach Town Council will discuss a letter supporting seismic air gun testing signed by Mayor Dean Lambeth in December supporting exploration for offshore oil and gas. Many people oppose the Town expressing support saying the tests will harm marine life and the environment.
By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
KURE BEACH - Kure Beach Mayor Dean Lambeth recently signed a letter supporting seismic testing and off shore drilling for oil and natural gas and that has upset some citizens and environmental groups.
The Mayor signed a letter written by America's Energy Forum - a group sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute - that describes its mission as, "a non-partisan community of concerned citizens committed to two goals – achieving energy security for our country, and holding our elected officials more accountable in shaping energy policies."
The letter sent last month was addressed to Tommy Beaudreau of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in Washington D.C. The letter stated, "The downturn in the economy negatively impacted the economic situation in our region, and we are still in recovery. As coastal elected officials we are also addressing other serious issues such as flood insurance, beach re-nourishment and diversifying our economies so we can grow vibrant, economically healthy communities. One potential opportunity to create jobs and revenue for our communities is offshore oil and natural gas exploration."
The letter stated, "Studies show that development of offshore resources could create a significant number of well paying jobs for our communities as well as generate revenue for critical infrastructure projects. However, the seismic data, which could determine the offshore potential, is more than 30 years old and needs to be updated so that everyone involved can make sound business and policy decisions. Therefore, we are writing to urge you to move the process forward to approve permits for seismic studies so that we can begin the long overdue process of improving our energy and economic security."
The letter stated, "Furthermore, we understand that companies are prohibited from conducting any exploration and production activities in the Atlantic because the Atlantic Offshore Continental Shelf is not in the government's current "Five-Year Program for 2012 to 2017." Its exclusion further stymies jobs and revenue growth opportunities for our communities. Thus, we are also asking you to allow Atlantic OCS leasing before 2017. We are all strong and vocal supporters of protecting our environment and will work with all parties involved to ensure that both our shoreline and marine life are protected during the seismic testing process."
The letter explained, "However, many experts and studies have shown that this testing can be conducted in an environmentally safe manner. Seismic analyses are highly regulated and carefully managed by the operator to avoid impacting marine mammals, with on-board personnel who specialize in wildlife protection. Furthermore, allowing the long-awaited testing to go forward, coupled with an inclusion of the Atlantic in the next five-year program, will provide us with the needed information to better assess the potential revenue and jobs impact that offshore exploration will bring to our respective states and communities."
The letter stated, "We appreciate your consideration and once again ask BOEM to expeditiously approve seismic studies and allow leasing in the Atlantic OCS before 2017. We must begin generating jobs and revenue opportunities to rejuvenate the economies under our jurisdictions."
The letter was signed by Lambeth as Mayor of Kure Beach with the additional line, "I am pleased to add my name to the above letter."
On January 7th, Jacqueline Savitz - Vice President, U.S. Oceans for the Washington D.C. group Oceana - sent a letter to Mayor Lambeth. Oceana opposes seismic testing and off shore drilling for oil and natural gas.
Savitz wrote, "We are writing to strongly encourage you to revisit your position on seismic airgun testing. While we think you make some valid points in your letter sent to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on December 19, 2013, the overriding impacts of seismic testing, and the resulting oil development, are not likely to be positive for Kure Beach. Therefore, we would like an opportunity to meet with you to discuss this in more detail. While your point may be true that “many experts and studies have shown that this testing can be conducted in an environmentally safe manner,” it is unlikely the Department of the Interior (DOI) will require that it be done in such a manner. These environmentally safe methods might include the use of less damaging technology, protecting areas known to be used by marine mammals, and other measures that DOI is not going to require."
Savitz explained, "Seismic airguns shoot dynamite-like blasts that can travel across entire ocean basins, harming and disturbing a variety of ocean life, including whales, dolphins, sea turtles and fish that our local economies depend on. According to the government’s own estimates, 138,500 whales and dolphins would be injured or possibly killed by such seismic blasts, and they could cause more than 13.5 million disturbances to their vital behaviors. In addition to the impacts on marine mammals, airguns are loud enough to kill fish eggs and larvae as well as scare fish away from important fishing grounds and decrease catch rates. Due to these threats, many fishing interests oppose seismic airgun use, including the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, which has formally opposed and spoken out against the use of seismic airguns in the Atlantic. Oceana and numerous other organizations have also opposed the use of seismic airguns along the East Coast because of the harm it presents to the local economy, environment and marine life."
Savitz explained, "North Carolina is home to an abundance and diversity of marine life that deserves protection, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, with about only 500 individuals remaining worldwide. Disruptions to right whale calving areas would not be avoided by the current “environmentally safe manner” of small closure areas or on-board observers, due to the widespread acoustic footprint of seismic airguns. The acoustic impacts of seismic airguns extend hundreds of miles from the ship, much further than an observer can see. Observers also can’t provide protection for non-surfacing species like fish. In a worst case scenario, seismic airgun testing could result in beached dolphins or even dead marine mammals on Kure Beach. Oceana does not believe the federal government is providing this species, or others, with adequate protections against seismic airguns. If you feel strongly about the need to do this in an environmentally safe manner, we can provide some suggestions and you could urge BOEM to consider them. But without strong encouragement, they are not heading in that direction."
Savitz wrote, "In your letter to BOEM you also mentioned that offshore oil and gas exploration is a potential opportunity to create jobs and revenue. We have looked at this issue and do not see seismic testing resulting in any new long-term jobs or revenue for your local community or the state of North Carolina. Even the consequent drilling is not likely to be a major revenue source as revenue sharing is not guaranteed. Yet the impacts of offshore drilling and seismic airgun testing will clearly accrue to the region. In fact, seismic testing and offshore drilling would severely threaten marine life and coastal economies. The use of seismic airguns and offshore drilling would jeopardize the state’s ocean-based jobs, including 30,000 in tourism and recreation, 17,000 in recreational fishing and more than 8,000 in commercial fishing."
Savitz explained, "Seismic airgun testing is the first step to offshore drilling, which we know can result in oil spills and deadly accidents. The fatality rate for oil and gas extraction workers is seven times higher than that for all other U.S. workers. And another accident like the Deepwater Horizon would be a major job-killer, not to mention a disaster, for North Carolina’s coastal businesses and natural assets."
On Monday January 6th, Lambeth said the Council will discuss the issue at their January 27th, meeting at 6:00PM at Town Hall. The meeting was rescheduled from a previous date because Councilman David Heglar would not be in Town.
Lambeth said, "We will have people there from various groups to speak for and against the issue."
He explained, "If we don't get money in here to help fund beach nourishment it will have to come from increased property taxes for citizens and then everyone will be screaming."
He said North Carolina needs to support energy exploration and, "If North Carolina doesn't, then Virginia will do it and drill sideways for it."
Lambeth said, "It will bring monies into the coastal economies and the hope would be that some of those revenues would generate taxes to help fund beach nourishment projects." He said the last nourishment project totaled around $4 million dollars and funding was an obstacle. He said, "We will need a million dollars in the bank the next time to cover our local share of the project."
Local, state and federal leaders continue to focus on funding future beach nourishment projects. Even though leaders have to lobby Washington every couple of years for funding, it is becoming increasing hard to secure federal funding. Currently 65 percent is paid by the federal government with the remaining 35 percent funded by state and local governments.
In New Hanover County, a portion of the room occupancy tax on hotel, motel and short-term vacation rentals goes towards funding nourishment projects.
In light of the issues involved in securing continued federal funding, New Hanover County adopted a contingency plan that would allow continued nourishment of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach using non-federal funds.
Under an interlocal agreement between the County and the three beach towns, if funding is not provided by the Federal Government in the future, all three beach towns agreed to provide 17.5% of the funds needed for periodic nourishment of their beaches. The remaining balance of 82.5% would be covered by New Hanover County and possibly the State of North Carolina. In the absence of state funding, the entire 82.5% balance would be assumed by the County. The County would use Room Occupancy Tax revenues realized from a tax on hotels, motels and short-term vacation rentals.
The Surfrider Foundation, Cape Fear Chapter, issued a statement on their Facebook page stating, "Inaccurate and poor decision making by the Mayor of Kure Beach. Seismic testing WILL hurt our oceans and we WILL NOT receive any revenue as a result. Disappointing the Mayor did not allow his constituents an opportunity to review and comment before signing."
According to Town Clerk Nancy Avery, the Council voted on waiting to get more citizen input before signing the letter.
Commissioners Emilie Swearingen and David Heglar voted in favor of that motion while Mayor Lambeth, Mayor Pro Tem Bloszinsky and Commissioner Pagley voted against that motion. She said following the meeting the interpretation was to send the letter.
Former Kure Beach Mayor Mac Montgomery sent an email to Town leaders Tuesday January 21 asking them to reconsider their position.
Montgomery explained, "I urge you to re-open discussion of the position of the Town of Kure Beach on Seismic Air Gun Testing and Offshore Drilling and to fully take into account the desires of Town residents and the reality of this action. The Mayor has clearly stated his position: "The town council’s Jan. 27 meeting is not a public hearing and the council will not make a decision following comments, Lambeth said. “I’ve already made the decision,” he said." (from Coastal Federation Article today)."
Montgomery explained, "I don't expect the Mayor to change his mind at all but I question his assumption that offshore activities in federal water will lead to increased revenue for Kure Beach projects. There is currently no federal revenue sharing legislation for the Atlantic Coast as there is for the Gulf. So any project, wind power or drilling, generates nothing for the states without new congressional legislation. I am very aware of the need for continued external sources of funding for our community but I question that this route is in keeping with the long standing values and traditions of Kure Beach and its citizens."
The Council will discuss the matter at their January 27th, meeting at 6:00PM at Town Hall; 117 Settlers Lane.