Kure Beach, North Carolina, a picturesque tourist destination known for its small town atmosphere and the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic coast, was ground zero in the fight against offshore oil exploration in the Atlantic Ocean. This tiny spit of sand that 2,000 people call home sparked a movement that has spread like wildfire up and down the East Coast from Delaware to Florida.
It all started with a letter. Mayor Dean Lambeth signed a letter in December 2013 supporting seismic airgun testing—the use of loud blasts of air for mapping oil and natural gas reserves beneath the ocean floor. This is the first step in the process of offshore drilling. Mayor Lambeth sent the letter to the federal government in his official capacity as Mayor without the knowledge of Kure Beach residents. When residents caught wind of this, the town was in an uproar. On January 27, 2014, more than 300 people showed up to defend their coast’s fate at the monthly Kure Beach council meeting. Many were furious and several carried signs of opposition as they piled into the unusually crowded town hall.
Citizen after citizen got up and spoke out against seismic airgun blasting and offshore drilling. They made their position clear, pointing to the huge costs offshore oil and gas exploration and development could impose on their community: dead marine mammals and other ocean wildlife, oil on the beaches, and the industrialization of the coast. They urged the mayor to change his mind. He did not.
At this same meeting, Commissioner Emilie Swearingen calmly faced the only two people who spoke in favor of drilling (both sponsored by the oil industry) and diligently poked holes in their statements. She heard the outrage that night – heard her constituents’ concerns that oil exploration could destroy their beautiful beaches, their bountiful marine life, their booming tourism industry, and most importantly their quality of life. The actions that night, of both Swearingen and Lambeth, stuck in the town’s memory.
Two months ago Kure Beach residents voted Dean Lambeth out of office and elected Swearingen to replace him as their mayor. The town’s voters overwhelmingly voted for a representative who would reflect popular opinion and who recognized that clean beaches mean a healthy economy and community. They found one in Mayor Swearingen, whose position against offshore drilling put her into office.
Since its start in Kure Beach two years ago, opposition to offshore drilling in the Atlantic has become one of the fastest growing movements in recent history. An August 2015 editorial in The Post and Courier said “It is hard to recall a grassroots effort that has advanced a cause so rapidly.” The groundswell now includes nearly 100 East Coast towns, over 750 business and industry interests, 100 members of congress, and more than 600 local elected officials.
Join your neighbors and friends January 19th at the Kure Beach town meeting to watch this campaign come full circle as council members vote on a resolution opposing offshore drilling activities, a vote that falls two years after the original town hall meeting that started it all. Be a part of an incredible milestone this Tuesday when the town that first endorsed offshore drilling activities reverses its position on the matter entirely. Be there to celebrate because it’s a reflection of a new mayor’s dedication to her constituents; a reflection of the sentiment behind the multitude of anti-drilling signs that dot yards all over Kure Beach; and a demonstration that two years’-worth of hard work and activism can truly make a difference.