Keep bipartisan ban on offshore drilling

President George H.W. Bush did a wise thing in 1990: He issued an executive order banning coastal area oil exploration, Since then a broad coalition of Republicans and Democrats have recognized the dangers and maintained that moratorium.

Officials who have opposed drilling include N.C. Republican Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr, Democratic Gov. Mike Easley, Republican Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and a host of others who think the economic and environmental risks far exceed any potential benefit.

Now that coalition is beginning to show cracks. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, says he's willing to explore for natural gas under certain conditions. U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick has called for legislation giving coastal states the option to allow drilling within 100 miles of the shoreline and the federal government to allow it beyond 100 miles. U.S. Reps. Robin Hayes, Virginia Foxx and Patrick McHenry, all N.C. Republicans, co-sponsor her bill.

This week President Bush called on Congress to end its ban on drilling and White House sources told the New York Times he might rescind his father's executive order. And presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who previously supported the moratorium, says he now favors offshore drilling.

These changes of opinion no doubt are driven in part by the high cost of gasoline and concerns over dependence on foreign oil. But there are too many problems associated with drilling off our coast to make them worthwhile. Among them:

Drilling off the N.C. coast probably wouldn't make any significant difference in gasoline prices. While there are thought to be gas and other energy sources off the coast, developing them could take a decade or more and offers only the fictional promise of reducing or even stabilizing gasoline prices. It is, as Gov. Mike Easley said Wednesday during a conference call, “A lot of squeeze for the juice.”

Oil or gas exploration puts the state's coastal tourism economy – including a growing and popular ecotourism economy – at risk of damaging accidents during exploration, development, pumping and delivery process, or from destructive storms in an area of the world long known as Hurricane Alley.

It would divert attention from what's really needed – a commitment to conservation, more efficient energy use and development of alternative sources, including solar, wind and hybrid technology.

President Bush the elder had it right about the folly of offshore drilling. Congress ought to keep the ban in place and focus on encouraging real solutions.