A Monday, Jan. 27 Kure Beach Town Council meeting drew dozens of public comments in response to Mayor Dean Lambeth’s Dec. 19 letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in support of seismic airgun testing along the North Carolina coast.
About 150 community members and activists crowded outside the packed town hall Jan. 27 for a pair of presentations addressing the controversial practice, in which high-powered sound waves are issued from the ocean’s surface to test for the presence of oil and gas deposits beneath the seabed.
Environmentalists argue the testing could kill or injure thousands of marine mammals, including the endangered right whale. Marine biologist Brady Bradshaw presented on behalf of Echo Friendly Action, pointing to government estimates that more than 130,000 marine mammals would be killed by the tests if allowed along the East Coast.
Andy Radford, a senior policy advisor for the American Petroleum Institute, said the message being touted by environmentalists was overblown.
“Those are estimates of numbers of animals that the tests could potentially be exposed to,” Radford said of the government figures. “Decades of seismic surveys all over the world have shown no impact to marine life.”
Randy Stargill, an Oak Island resident and Oceana campaign organizer, disagreed.
“It’s not Oceana’s numbers and data, it is the data from the [U.S.] Department of the Interior,” Stargill said. “It’s the folks with the expertise that have estimated that 138,000 dolphins and whales could be affected.”
The public comment period moved to the end of the nearly three-hour-long meeting brought dozens of citizens, academics and former town commissioners representing both sides of the issue, with a majority opposing Lambeth’s position on the practice. Many cited tourism and fishing as industries that could be negatively affected by the development of oil offshore, repeatedly referencing the 2008 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as an example of the industry’s risk.
After the meeting, Lambeth said he remains steadfast in his support of the industry and seismic testing practices.
“It was a couple people stirring up the pot,” Lambeth said. “I have no earthly idea why they would oppose this. They cannot prove that it has hurt a single dolphin.”
Lambeth added that he sent the letter as an individual, not with the intention of committing the Town of Kure Beach to supporting the practice. He pointed out it was a form letter from America’s Energy Forum, and should not be construed as though it had borne the town’s letterhead.
Speaking during the end of the meeting, Commissioner David Heglar, who said he differed from Lambeth’s views on seismic testing and offshore oil and gas exploration, also echoed Lambeth’s insistence that he was not representing the town in his letter.
“I felt this was an issue that the Town of Kure Beach, as a small town, shouldn’t be getting into,” Heglar said. “But the fact is that the mayor has taken his own stance on this issue.”