North Carolina's lobbying group for the politically influential oil-and-gas industry is getting a new executive director for the first time in nearly four decades. The leadership change at the N.C. Petroleum Council comes at a time that state lawmakers are debating fracking, the most contentious energy policy in at least a half-century.
David McGowan, 33, a lobbyist for the N.C. Association of Realtors, will replace Bill Weatherspoon, who retired last month after 39 years on the job. Weatherspoon turns 70 on Tuesday. The Petroleum Council, a one-man shop that hires contract lobbyists as needed, is the state office of the American Petroleum Institute, the nation's voice of big oil and natural gas. "I'll be lobbyist, stamp-licker, envelope deliverer -- all of the above," said McGowan, who leaves the realtors' group Friday and starts with the state petroleum organization on Monday.
McGowan, the realtor lobby's director of regulatory affairs, is leaving an organization with about two dozen employees and offices in Greensboro and Raleigh.
With the potential for the legalization of shale gas exploration and offshore drilling, the Petroleum Council is at the peak of activity with stakes as high as they've ever been, Weatherspoon said.
"They are certainly the most highly debated issues in my career," he said.
Last year Weatherspoon steererd the group as it lobbied for a bill to move fracking forward by modernizing the state's laws and regulations. The policy became law only after a veto override by a single vote (the deciding vote being cast accidentally, no less).
This year the group is pushing for legislation that would lift the state's fracking moratorium in 2 years, remove the N.C. State Geologist from the N.C. Mining & Energy Commission, allow for deep-well toxic waste injection, among other changes.
Opposition to fracking has formed at the state and local level, spanning branch offices of national environmental groups to individual retirees. Critics say fracking can poison drinking water sources and destroy pastoral landscapes.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a means of pumping water and chemicals underground to break apart prehistoric shale rock and release natural gas trapped inside.
Advocates say fracking will lead to economic growth and job creation while reducing this nation's dependance on imported oil and dirty coal.
Weatherspoon said the timing of his planned retirement is simply "a function of having 70 birthdays."
--John Murawski, staff writer