Viewpoint

N.C. drilling is no solution

From Doug Rader, chief ocean scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund. In 1989-90 he served on a panel for then-Gov. Jim Martin which concluded exploratory drilling for oil was inconsistent with the state's plan to protect its coast:

We all want lower gas prices, but drilling for oil off North Carolina's coast will not reduce costs at the pump. Anyone who says otherwise is flat-out wrong.

In the same time it would take any N.C. oil to reach the pumps, the state could pursue other energy strategies, such as ocean, wind, solar and other renewable resources.

Drilling off North Carolina would not lead to significant oil production.

The potential for significant quantities of liquid petroleum in the Southeast is quite low. The most likely scenario would be limited production spread over decades, beginning in 15 to 20 years. The small amount of oil that might be drilled would not stay in North Carolina but enter the global market and have no discernable impact on gasoline prices.

Worse, there may be no oil at all off North Carolina's coast. There has never been a productive “wet hole” on land or sea in the Southeast.

In 2006 the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency that regulates drilling, estimated the entire Atlantic Coast north of Cape Canaveral, Fla., would likely yield 2 billion barrels of crude oil, which would become one billion barrels of refined products such as gas. The United States uses nearly 10 million barrels of refined products a day. At that rate, oil reserves for the Atlantic Coast would be used in 100 days.

Offshore drilling would jeopardize N.C.'s fishing industry.

North Carolina's marshes and coastal waters are some of the most important fish nurseries on the East Coast. Oil production would have serious, long-term effects on these spawning grounds, which generate billions of dollars for the fishing industry, because of the cumulative impacts of drilling, building and maintaining pipelines, constructing shore-based support facilities and transporting the oil. One big hurricane disaster could mar the coast for decades.

Offshore drilling would threaten the rare coral wilderness off the N.C. coast.

Ocean scientists recently discovered a massive and ancient deepwater coral wilderness that stretches from North Carolina to Florida. The corals play such a valuable role in the marine ecosystem that efforts are under way to grant the reefs special protection under federal law, which recognizes “habitat areas of particular concern.”Offshore drilling would permanently change coastal communities. While drilling would take place far offshore, support and transport facilities would be constructed in areas now devoted to the state's thriving tourism and recreational fishing industries. Coastal communities will become more industrial.

The bottom line is clear: oil drilling off North Carolina's coast is not relevant to gas prices we are likely to experience in the coming decades.

North Carolina should invest in innovative energy alternatives, on land and in the sea. Energy from the sea – from wind, wave, current and thermal sources – can be developed in abundance, and in about the same time as building the infrastructure required for an oil industry.

Investing in clean, renewable ocean energy will improve energy security and protect the vibrant coastal environment and economy. That's a sensible solution to reduce the state's dependence on oil.

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