Reuters reports that the U.S. Dept. of the Interior is planning to open portions of the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas drilling and will make an announcement possibly in the second quarter. The report is based on remarks by DOI assistant secretary for land and minerals management, Joe Balash, made at the International Association of Geophysical Contractors annual conference in Houston on February 20.

The issue is of keen interest in North Carolina, where the potential for offshore recovery is significant. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) under the Obama administration had estimated that the mid-Atlantic OCS holds about 2.4 billion technically recoverable barrels of oil and 2.34 trillion technically recoverable cubic feet of natural gas.

Those reserves are thought to be a considerable distance from North Carolina shores. Old energy industry surveys estimated those reserves to be at least 40 miles off the coast, going out to about 100 miles.

Gov. Roy Cooper has opposed any offshore drilling for oil and natural gas.

In 2016, President Barack Obama reneged on his promise to allow oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic region, which was to be part of his stated “all-of-the-above” approach toward domestic energy production. Instead, in a stark election-year reversal, his administration’s final five-year plan put 94 percent of the OCS off-limits from leasing.

On March 28, 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order requiring executive departments and agencies to identify and appropriately address existing regulations that “unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources.” A month later, Trump issued a follow-up executive order to “encourage energy exploration and production, including on the Outer Continental Shelf.”