Bernhardt Confirmation Raises Concerns Over Offshore Drilling

Antionette Kerr

CAPE HATTERAS, N.C. – The Senate vote set this week on the confirmation of David Bernhardt as Interior Secretary is making waves in North Carolina.

Bernhardt took the helm at Interior after the resignation of Ryan Zinke, but faced tough questions about his past as an oil and gas lobbyist before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 14-6 to send the nomination to the floor for a vote.

Groups in North Carolina have asked the state’s U.S. senators to probe the Trump administration’s recent support of seismic drilling. They say under Bernhardt’s leadership, the agency charged with protecting national resources could permit harm to North Carolina’s coastlines.

Manley Fuller, vice president for conservation policy at the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, has seen the impact of drilling-related oil spills in the Gulf. He said it’s risky business for wildlife, commercial and recreational fishing and industries that thrive in the coast’s $3.5 billion tourism economy.

“There would be a significant effect on North Carolina’s natural resource-based economy – that includes fishing, recreational, commercial,” Fuller said. “That includes people going to the beach, people bird watching, people just enjoying the coast.”

Republican Senator Thom Tillis, a past advocate for offshore drilling, has invited Bernhardt and other agencies on a listening tour on North Carolina’s coast. He wrote, “While I understand that there are potential economic benefits coming from offshore energy production, I would like to hear more details about specific actions your agencies are taking to safeguard longstanding industries in our coastal community.”

North Carolina’s commercial fishing industry was valued at more than $97 million in 2017. Being on the Atlantic flyway, the Tar Heel State’s sounds, marshes and coastal wetlands also are very important waterfowl areas, supporting a vibrant hunting economy, according to the North Carolina Wildlife Federation.

Fuller said even without an oil spill, seismic drilling and testing would be harmful to wildlife.

“They not only jeopardize whales and other cetacea like dolphins, they can affect turtles, all kinds of marine fish,” he said. “The sonic effects can have impacts on wildlife and also commercially and recreationally important fish.”

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