Is it wise to drill for oil, gas off N.C. coastline?

In a time of high gasoline prices, Republican candidates at all levels have been successful in making a powerful political issue of lifting a federal ban on drilling for oil and gas off our coastline.

Never mind that there is no credible evidence exploration off the N.C. coast will have any significant impact on gasoline prices in the foreseeable future – and certainly not during the tenure of those running for office on a Drill Now platform. And never mind that a wholesale embrace of the Drill Now argument would do nothing to help wean the United States from dependence on foreign oil.

Still, a lot of candidates have bought the argument that consumer disgust over high fuel prices is so potent that even common-sense opposition to drilling in inappropriate places has faded. In Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told fellow Democrats they're free to embrace the Drill Now philosophy. And in North Carolina, Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, the Democratic nominee for governor, has softened her stance on drilling after getting beat up on the issue by Republican nominee Pat McCrory.

She said earlier she was “100 percent opposed” to drilling but more recently said she wants to hear first from independent experts about offshore drilling.

We're not disturbed that Lt. Gov. Perdue may change her mind on an important issue. We think it's a sign of intellectual constipation when any politician takes a rigid stand and won't consider any additional information they didn't previously have – whether it's on energy policy or any other.

But we do think she was right on the question of exploring for oil or gas off our coast. While the record of offshore drilling is much better than it once was, the opportunity for accidents while drilling, transporting or processing oil poses an unacceptable threat to an already battered coastal ecology.

A new examination of the potential consequences may be helpful. And it's worth remembering that's essentially what one of Mr. McCrory's supporters, former Gov. Jim Martin, did when he was governor in the 1980s. Mr. Martin was against drilling by Mobil Oil without an environmental impact statement and pulled together a working group to examine drilling issues. He later signed an agreement calling for a study that wouldn't take as long, but ultimately Gov. Martin and President George H.W. Bush both opposed offshore drilling because of the danger to these shores.

Study drilling, yes, but also study this: Is the dim prospect of cheaper gas more important than the health of the N.C. coast?