Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday he sent a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke seeking to delay any decision on drilling or seismic testing of the ocean floor in search of oil and gas deposits off North Carolina’s coast.

Cooper wants the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to hold public hearings outside Raleigh in the coastal communities of Kill Devil Hills, Morehead City, and Wilmington. He has threatened a lawsuit if oil and gas drilling is permitted in Atlantic Ocean waters off of North Carolina’s coast. For now, he’s now asking for a 60-day extension of the federal public comment period.

“This extension is necessary to allow for public hearings in coastal areas, and to give the public especially the people of eastern North Carolina, sufficient time to submit comments on offshore drilling proposed for nearly the entire U.S. Outer Continental Shelf,” Cooper said in the letter.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest chairs the state Energy Policy Council. In an email, Forest spokesman Jamey Falkenbury said:

To ask for another 60 days of public comment is delaying the inevitable decision of Gov. Cooper’s administration to block any exploration off the coast of North Carolina.  The time to start exploring was yesterday.

“I think it’s clear it’s just a delay tactic, and they’re going to pull out every stop,” said David McGowan, executive director of the N.C. Petroleum Council. He said Cooper isn’t interested in the pros or cons of drilling based on scientific testing that has yet to be done.

McGowan said he supports further public comment. It would take 10 to 15 years before drilling produced any oil or natural gas, and there would be plenty of time for additional public input.

And he said if Cooper is concerned about seismic testing’s effect on marine life, he should have the same level of alarm about other activities that could disturb sea animals.

“I’ll be very interested to learn whether he also opposes seismic surveys for installations of offshore wind turbines once we come to that point in the process with developers of those facilities,” McGowan said. The intensity might be higher in oil and gas seismic testing, but wind seismic is “essentially the same technology, and the same vessels pulling the same type of equipment.”

To be consistent, McGowan said, Cooper should be concerned about the effects on aquatic creatures of beach renourishment, inland dredging, and even National Science Foundation research from 2014 conducted off the coast about potential climate change.

U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-8th District, is a proponent of Atlantic oil and gas exploration and production.

It’s about time we had a president who shares my desire to responsibly open North Carolina to energy exploration while protecting our beautiful coastal waters as well as our tourism and ocean industries,” Hudson said when President Trump reversed Obama-era regulations in April, opening the Outer Continental Shelf for leasing.

Economists have projected offshore drilling would create 15,000 to 17,000 jobs in North Carolina and add between $116 million and $171 million to annual state government revenue.

Zinke yielded to Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s request to exempt Florida from Atlantic drilling earlier this month. Scott made the case that Florida’s beach industry, tourism, and coastline were unique as economic drivers for the state. Cooper requested the same exemption Jan. 20 in a phone call with Zinke.

“If North Carolina is not exempt from offshore drilling, we will sue the federal government,” Cooper said Jan. 22 during a visit to Wrightsville Beach.

In a press release announcing his letter to Zinke, Cooper said at least 30 coastal communities have passed resolutions opposing drilling, joining hundreds of businesses and a bipartisan group of North Carolina’s congressional delegation. He said the only scheduled public hearing — an open house in Raleigh — was not sufficient, and people living in the affected communities should have an opportunity to speak for the record.