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Opponents: Offshore Drilling Opens Pandora's Box for NC Coast

Drilling off the coast of North Carolina is predicted to harm wildlife and discourage the tourism and fishing industry. (Michael Herzog/flickr)
Drilling off the coast of North Carolina is predicted to harm wildlife and discourage the tourism and fishing industry. (Michael Herzog/flickr)
January 5, 2018

BEAUFORT, N.C. – On Thursday, the Trump administration announced plans to open up Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf and Arctic waters to offshore drilling. If the Department of the Interior moves forward, it will be the biggest oil and gas lease sale ever.

The news is initiating ripples of concern from the North Carolina coast, where tourism and commercial fishing could be impacted.

Tom Kies, the president and CEO of the Carteret Chamber of Commerce, says the state has a lot to lose in the deal.

"What's at stake are millions of jobs and millions of dollars of revenue," he states. "We are deeply dependent on tourism, and if we lose that we pack our bags and we go someplace else."

There have been no oil and gas leasing of federal waters since the 1980s. The five-year plan announced during the final days of the Obama administration offered a small selection of leases in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and the West Coast, but left the Atlantic, Pacific and the eastern Gulf of Mexico off the table.

Supporters of offshore drilling argue it's needed for the country's energy independence and will create jobs.

The draft proposal estimates the amount of oil off the Atlantic coast to equal approximately a seven-month supply based on current U.S. consumption.

Steve Mashuda, the managing attorney for oceans at Earthjustice, says the risk to the coast doesn't merit the reward at a time when clean-energy options are on the rise.

"We not only don't need this now, we're not going to need it later," he says. "In a world where we need to address the threats from climate change, we're going to be burning less oil 20, 30 years from now than we are today, and this oil is not needed now and it's not going to be needed down the road, either."

The announcement comes at a time when the Trump administration is working to roll back restrictions put in place after the Deepwater Horizon spill. Kies says once drilling begins, there's no going back to a protected coast.

"That's a devil's bargain," Kies warns. "Once you've started, that will never end. It is a huge concern of ours that instead of bringing jobs to eastern North Carolina, we could very easily lose just a huge amount of jobs."

Kies and others add that it's also unclear how much interest there will be on the part of oil companies in bidding on the leases, and if the price garnered will be worth the risk. Because of historically low oil prices, many offshore drillers are working with existing infrastructure, versus exploring new territories.

Stephanie Carson/Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NC