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NC Could See Offshore Oil & Gas Development by 2021; Testing Could Begin Within Months

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

The mid-Atlantic region, from Virginia to Georgia, could see offshore oil and gas development by the year 2021.  The area, which includes North Carolina, is part of a draft plan released last month by the Federal Government.  And while the maps cannot expand, some areas under consideration might not make it through the scoping process.      

Areas closed to oil and gas drilling include the entire Pacific coast, large swaths of Alaskan waters, and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.  And while the governors of Oregon, Washington, and California all say they don’t want oil and gas exploration off their shores, states’ interest is only part of the criteria. 

Abigail Ross Hopper is the recently-appointed Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency overseeing the project. 

"Many other aspects that we look at include the potential for the resource there, understanding how much oil and gas we think lies in that area, we look at the energy security of our nation.  That is part of our statutory obligation.  We look at the environmental impacts.  We look at the other uses of the ocean, the other users of the ocean, and how these things can coexist."

Three sites in North Carolina, two in the Cape Fear region, are likely to be part of BOEM’s offshore wind energy project. 

Hopper says oil and gas development can coexist with offshore wind – partly thanks to the 50-mile buffer zone BOEM is imposing on drilling operations.

But, says Hopper, any of the areas currently on the draft maps could ultimately be dropped.

"The process we have just embarked upon is scoping for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.  And that is where we take a very careful look at the environmental impact of oil and gas development in this area.  We have invited the public to comment and we ask the public to help us understand what areas of sensitivity they think we need to take a more careful look at."

There are already seismic testing permit applications awaiting approval, says Hopper.  She's reluctant to speculate on how soon the mid-Atlantic region could see oil and gas producers surveying the resource because other agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are involved in the permitting process.  But it could be a matter of months, she says.  

Once the environmental assessments are complete, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will make the final decision on which areas, if any, are to be excluded from oil and gas development. 

This was part of the most recent edition of CoastLine.

BOEM is holding a public scoping meeting on oil and gas development next Tuesday, February 17th at the Blockade Runner in Wrightsville Beach from 3-7 PM.