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Risky Business? Drilling Off the NC Coast

PHOTO: Beaches like Nags Head generate at least $3 billion a year in revenue for North Carolina. Conservation groups are concerned that could change if oil and gas exploration is allowed along the coast. Photo credit: Wikimedia
PHOTO: Beaches like Nags Head generate at least $3 billion a year in revenue for North Carolina. Conservation groups are concerned that could change if oil and gas exploration is allowed along the coast. Photo credit: Wikimedia
April 18, 2014

NAGS HEAD, N.C. – Sunday marks the four-year anniversary of the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf Coast.

While oil and gas exploration isn't currently permitted off the North Carolina coast that could change.

Gov. Pat McCrory promised to push for it in his State of the State address.

Randy Sturgill, southeastern campaign organizer for the environmental watchdog group Oceana, says that could come at great cost.

"If they drill, they will spill – as there are rigs right now in the Gulf of Mexico that are spilling oil into the Gulf," he points out.

The coastal waters are under federal control, so it's ultimately up to Washington to decide whether drilling would be allowed, and Sturgill says the earliest that could happen is 2017.

According to a study by NC State, North Carolina's beaches generate $3 billion in revenue each year and support 39,000 jobs.

In addition to threats of spills and leaks, conservation groups are concerned about the use of seismic air guns to locate oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor.

Sturgill says the air guns emit a noise 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine, which could make daily activity difficult for local residents as well as for sea life.

"Now, imagine trying to do all these things with the sounds of dynamite going off in your neighborhood every 10 to 12 seconds, 24-hours a day, for days and weeks on end," he says.

The government estimates that more than 138,000 whales and dolphins could be injured or killed along the East Coast if exploration companies are allowed to use seismic air guns.

Six coastal towns, including Carolina Beach, Caswell Beach and Nags Head, have already passed local resolutions opposing their use.

Reporting for this story by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest. Media in the Public Interest is funded in part by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Stephanie Carson/Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC