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Atlantic Oil and Gas Drilling: A Threat to NC's Natural Heritage?

PHOTO: A five-year draft plan for offshore oil drilling was released Tuesday by the Obama Administration, including North Carolina. Opponents say drilling could put the state’s national heritage at risk. Photo credit: Waldo Jaquith/Flickr
PHOTO: A five-year draft plan for offshore oil drilling was released Tuesday by the Obama Administration, including North Carolina. Opponents say drilling could put the state’s national heritage at risk. Photo credit: Waldo Jaquith/Flickr
January 28, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. - President Obama's proposal to open the North Carolina coast to oil and gas drilling is drawing opposition from some communities and conservation groups.

A five-year draft proposal to allow oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean was released Tuesday, and federal leaders have said it could make nearly 80 percent of undiscovered resources available and recoverable. But Dave Rogers, state director for Environment North Carolina, said the plan could hurt tourism, marine life and the coast.

"We're putting our natural heritage at risk if we allow offshore oil drilling," he said. "If any spills were to occur, it could really just be devastating to those communities that live along the coast."

Rogers cited communities along the Gulf of Mexico that still are feeling the impacts of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill.

Meanwhile, federal leaders say an environmental study of the Atlantic Coast will be conducted, and the plan could be scrapped if scientists discover the area is too environmentally sensitive.

The proposal is in its early stages, so there will be months of public hearings and comments. Rogers said opponents will be stepping up their efforts to ensure the North Carolina coast is kept out of the plan.

"We'll be working to gather public opposition to this plan," he said, "and then, working to convince the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and President Obama that it just doesn't make sense to open up North Carolina's coast."

Gov. Pat McCrory supports oil and gas exploration, and the jobs and revenue it would create. Rogers argued that the state should focus instead on greater investment in clean energy sources, including wind and solar power.

"We're all for energy independence," he said, "but it's a much better direction for us to move towards these clean sources that can actually power the entire state than it does to rely on dirty energy sources of the past."

Last week, the federal Interior Department announced it is releasing an environmental assessment that supports wind-energy development off the North Carolina coast.

More information on the draft proposal is online at doi.gov.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NC