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Energy & Environment

DOJ Says Order On NC Offshore Drilling Won't Stop Surveying Efforts

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The Trump administration has said a recent executive order banning offshore drilling that included North Carolina has no legal effect on current applications to survey for offshore oil and gas.

President Trump signed the order last Friday, banning offshore leases for 10 years. But the Department of Justice said in District Court in South Carolina last week that Trump's order had "no legal effect" on current applications for oil and gas surveying.

Trump announced a similar 10-year offshore drilling ban for the Atlantic coasts of Florida and Georgia and South Carolina. Those three states have Republican governors, but that ban excluded North Carolina, which has a Democratic governor, Roy Cooper. Cooper sent a letter to Trump after the exclusion saying he was concerned and disappointed that North Carolina wasn't on the list. 

Then last week, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said in a video that Trump had told him that North Carolina would be included in the ban. Tillis thanked Trump for including North Carolina. The senator’s office did not respond to questions about further actions the federal government would take to prevent offshore drilling.

The federal government has given the go-ahead for seismic testing to begin in North Carolina's coastal waters over the state's objections. Attorney General Josh Stein is appealing that order. In September, one oil and gas exploration company, Houston-based WesternGeco, withdrew its testing permit application.

Brett Hartl, political director for the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, criticized the inclusion of North Carolina as a political stunt. Hartl said Trump could easily reverse the order if those companies end up finding something.

"So they’re going to keep looking for oil and gas, even though they say they’re not going to lease anything," Hartl said. "But you know what if they find a huge deposit offshore? They’ll just change their mind again after the election and pursue their sort of relentless approach to more and more oil and gas development."

Hartl said the executive order doesn’t prevent loud seismic surveying to search for oil, which can damage wildlife including certain whale species.

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