The Obama Administration today released a proposal to possibly open the Atlantic Seaboard – including the coast of North Carolina - to oil exploration.
The proposal is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s five-year plan.
Testing from the 1980s estimated that as many as 3.3 billion barrels of oil could be off the Atlantic coast.
That estimate could be low.
“Historically, the data we have today shows that we could have as much 4.8 billion gallons of oil off the coast of North Carolina,” Jack Gerard, the president of the American Petroleum Institute, said at the Coastal Energy Summit in Wilmington in October. “We think that’s a conservative estimate because that’s based on technology and research done over 30 years ago.”
North Carolina’s U.S. Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr are strong supporters of oil exploration.
“While enhancing economic growth, the legislation will also preserve our beautiful coastal views and protect the tourism industry surrounding it by prohibiting any energy exploration within 30 miles of the nearest shore,” Tillis said in an op-ed. “Additionally, existing federal law already requires that any energy exploration be conducted with the least impact on land, sea, coastal and human environments.”
Governor Pat McCrory has said on numerous occasions that he would like to use any revenue the state could receive from oil exploration on infrastructure in coastal areas, like beach nourishment and roads.
“If you want to continue to create jobs, the United States (North Carolina included), needs to participate in our energy independence,” McCrory said.
Environmental groups immediately attacked the plan, and expressed frustration with the Obama administration.
“As the administration moves to finalize this draft proposal, we hope they'll recognize that North Carolina’s energy future should be focused on tapping our region's large offshore wind potential,” said Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, communications director for the North Carolina Sierra Club, in a statement. “Choosing clean energy will benefit economies up and down the Atlantic coast and will benefit the environment.”
Others say drilling for oil creates a high risk for an ecological disaster along North Carolina’s coast, like the BP Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.
"This proposal sells out the southeast fisheries, tourism, and coastal way of life," says Sierra Weaver, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "This is an area that has never been drilled for oil production. These are places and communities that rely on natural resources like clean air and clean water for the quality of life and the lifestyle that they know."