Updated April 26 with developments.
A Wall Street Journal report that the Trump administration has indefinitely suspended its plans to allow more offshore drilling had environmentalists hoping that the idea is dead.
Gov. Roy Cooper opposed plans to open waters along the North Carolina coast to drilling. Most governors along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts opposed the Trump administration plan. Some elected officials in coastal communities and business owners in those areas also fought drilling.
The Journal reported Thursday that U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in an interview that the plan was on hold while a federal judge’s decision upholding an Obama-era drilling ban in the Arctic Ocean and parts of the Atlantic Ocean is appealed.
“I certainly hope that ‘indefinitely delayed’ is Washington-speak for ‘never,’” Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney Sierra Weaver said in a statement. “Whatever the reason for this delay, more than 230 communities have spoken out against seismic testing and offshore drilling in the Atlantic, and those hundreds of thousands of coastal residents and businesses welcome any development that makes risking their coast less likely.”
In seismic testing, blasts from airguns are used to search for oil and gas.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2017 that could open the coasts to offshore drilling for oil and gas.
Offshore drilling is already allowed in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coasts of Louisiana, Texas, and Alabama.
The American Petroleum Institute, which supported the plan, said in a statement Thursday: “We are hopeful that an appeal of this case will move quickly and that we can proceed with the important work of exploring for America’s offshore resources without unnecessary delay.”
At a meeting last year with former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Cooper pressed the case that North Carolina’s shores were unsuitable for drilling.
“While a delay is good news, its clear that this administration still has an ultimate goal to open additional waters to offshore drilling, including the North Carolina coast,” Jamal Little, a spokesman for Cooper, said in a statement Thursday. “We’ll continue to fight to protect our waters, beaches, and coastal communities from this short sighted and potentially catastrophic plan.”
Most Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation said they supported offshore drilling or exploration, The N&O reported.
The National Wildlife Federation wants the drilling plan permanently canceled.
“Given the recent court decision, the Administration is right to set aside its plan, but it needs to go one step further and fully and permanently scrap its plan to open our coasts to unfettered offshore drilling,” Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement. “There is too much at stake for our coastal economies, wildlife and public health.”
A public hearing in Raleigh last year drew both opponents and supporters, The N&O reported. Opponents said drilling would endanger the environment and hurt tourism, while supporters said it would bring high-paying jobs to the state and help the country achieve energy independence.