ATLANTIC BEACH Gov. Roy Cooper announced last week that his administration would be submitting documents to the U.S. Department of Interior arguing against the opening of waters off the North Carolina coast for seismic testing and drilling of oil and natural gas. Cooper gave the remarks in Atlantic Beach at Fort Macon State Park.”I can sum it up in four words: Not off our coast,” exclaimed Cooper.The governor, a Democrat, said the risks of drilling to the coastal communities of the Old North State were too high and offered that there are safer and cheaper options such as renewable energy sources and natural gas.According to the Institute for Energy Research, the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), which stretches north to south offshore of the East Coast of the United States, contains approximately 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.Cooper’s predecessor, Republican Pat McCrory, together with a coalition of coastal governors, lobbied the federal government for permits to perform seismic testing off the coast during the administration of President Barack Obama. While Obama eventually banned offshore drilling in Atlantic and Arctic waters, President Donald Trump issued an executive order in April of this year to resume federal reviews for offshore drilling prospects.Although the 2016 race for governor was decided by a razor-thin margin of 10,000 votes, coastal Carteret where Cooper made the announcement voted overwhelmingly for McCrory at nearly 70 percent.At the center of the offshore drilling debate is the prospect of significant local job creation and economic development versus fears of potential oil spills that could damage the environment and negatively affect tourism at area beaches. Those opposed to offshore drilling also point to North Carolina’s ever-present risk of hurricanes thereby increasing the risk of spills.Republican Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), co-chairman of the Atlantic Offshore Energy Caucus, responded to the news of Cooper’s announcement with criticism of Cooper’s “either-or” stand.”To put it simply, Gov. Cooper is wrong,” said Hudson. “This is not an either-or situation. We can open North Carolina to energy exploration and development while protecting our beautiful coastal waters as well as our tourism and ocean industries.”According to the U.S. Department of Interior, offshore operators produced 7 billion barrels of oil from 1985 to 2001 with a spill rate of only .001 percent. In 2005, two hurricanes (Katrina and Rita) destroyed 115 Gulf of Mexico oil and gas platforms and damaged 535 pipeline segments, but there were no major oil spills attributed to either storm. Better technology is credited for avoiding environmental risks.A report prepared for the American Petroleum Institute and National Ocean Industries Association estimated N.C. could gain as many as 55,000 jobs by 2035 from offshore energy production, ranging from oil rig workers to onshore service providers. The same report forecasts North Carolina would benefit the most in oil and gas industry jobs of any state along the Eastern Seaboard with an estimated $4 billion increase in economic activity.
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