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NC coast included in potential off-shore drilling plan

There might be no Kure for North Carolina’s off-shore drilling problem.

One of eight potential planning areas for drilling — as part of the national 2017-22 Oil and Gas Leasing Program — will be off the coast of Kure Beach, North Carolina. This plan, if approved, would drill about 80 percent of the estimated undiscovered, technically available oil and gas resources within the United States. 

Residents of Kure Beach are concerned for a drilling accident that could parallel the Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010. 

David Rogers, state director of Environment North Carolina, said this plan has downsides if it is approved. 

“Number one, there is a multitude of marine mammals and fish species that rely on this area,” Rogers said. “Number two, this area relies on tourism and people come from all over the world to visit our beaches. The possibility of a spill will be devastating and destroy the tourist industry.”

Steve Ross, a research professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, said the geology of the area is also important to consider when thinking about drilling. 

“Drilling in the Gulf Stream, in hurricane zone and in deep water, is risky,” Ross said. “Drilling in high currents and deep water is dangerous and the possibilities of accidents can go up.”

Economically, off-shore drilling could also jeopardize the coastal areas of North Carolina and ruin economies if an accident were to occur.

“The coastal North Carolina economy is based on tourism and vibrant fishing economy,” said Mike Giles, a coastal advocate for the North Carolina Coastal Federation. “An accident would affect the entire east coast of North Carolina, so over 100 municipalities on the east coast have come up opposing off shore drilling.” 

Some also question the types of jobs that oil companies might attract in North Carolina. 

“Jobs may be created, but our counter to that is that, it might be true, but it also puts a number of tourism jobs and small business jobs at risk,” Rogers said. “This also raises a question of how many jobs and what kind of jobs will be created. Drilling is highly technical occupation and we don’t have the capacity of those kinds of skills in North Carolina.”

The continuous proposals for drilling also bring into question when and if projects for alternative energy will be an option.

“Alternative energy sources would have us better off,” Ross said. “Oil companies see economic benefits, but there (is) plenty of other oil in other places … The price of oil is lowest in decades and the supply is high, so we don’t know if it is economically feasible to do it right now.”

Rogers said if North Carolina began investing more in alternative energy, this could create momentum for an improved economy and environment. 

“Even if (drilling) did create jobs or energy independence, it will slow movement and momentum where North Carolina could be a bigger player on the world stage when it comes to energy,” Rogers said. “From an economic and business perspective, it is not a smart use of resources to move in that direction.” 

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