By Scott Marx
The Wilson Center at Cape Fear Community Center was filled to capacity on Tuesday night as members of the community gathered together for ‘To Drill of Not To Drill’, a public forum hosted by Cape Fear Community College, University of North Carolina—Wilmington, and Cape Fear Realtors. The sold out event featured former Shell Oil President John Hofmeister and explorer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau providing differing perspectives on offshore oil exploration in the Atlantic Ocean.
The forum was divided into two parts with each presenter delivering prepared remarks before participating in a Q&A session addressing questions submitted prior to the event. The majority of the discussion focused on the debate between economic development and security versus risks to the environment and local fishing, tourism and recreation industries.
“This is an issue of national security, our use of energy permeates every aspect of life and the US currently consumes 7 million barrels of oil per day that we don’t produce,” commented Hofmeister. “The East coast of the US is considered a frontier area – we don’t know what is out there right now. What we need is a technical assessment of the region.”
Reiterating that there are difficult decisions to be made, Hofmeister emphasized the need to gather additional information so that we can make the right choices. “Do we remain ignorant or do we think about future generations?”
Cousteau focused instead on the environmental impact of the oil industry and the continuing need to develop renewable energy sources.
“What worries me is the amount of money being spent trying to find more oil should be being spent on developing renewable energies,” commented Cousteau. “There are so many ways to address the problems we have created and many companies out there, including the oil industry are looking at other options. Oil will run out eventually. This is a thing of the past, we need to be looking forward.”
Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Obama administration implemented a five-year energy plan in 2016 that excluded offshore exploration and drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. However, since taking office President Trump has pushed for more offshore exploration and federal regulators are asking for public comment.
According to Randy Sturgill, senior campaign organizer for Oceana, “Nearly 90 percent of North Carolina’s coastal municipalities have publicly opposed offshore drilling activities and Governor Cooper has made it clear that this dirty and dangerous industry is not welcome in our state.”
“This administration has said it is going to listen to feedback from the community and the feedback has been overwhelmingly against it,” commented Mike Giles, Coastal Advocate for the North Carolina Coastal Federation. “We are going to run out of oil but its not just about looking for a little bit more offshore. We need to be talking about conservation as well.”
The forum was the inaugural event for The Public Square (TPS), a collaborative effort to grow civility in the region by addressing relevant, controversial issues in a respectful forum. The group’s stated purpose is to build community bonds while educating the public on issues, in a setting that models civility.
The emphasis on civility over content left some disappointed.
“It was good, but I wish there was more content,” stated Jake Cecelski, who graduated last December from the University of North Carolina—Wilmington with a degree in Enviromental Science and Economics. “There are pros and cons to offshore oil exploration but there are many other options out there that need to be explored before we open up the oceans to more development. I was hoping the discussion tonight would have included more focus on the alternatives.”