A conference devoted to the plans and potential issues of offshore oil drilling brought together scientists and policy makers in New Bern on Friday. “Shaping Our Economic Future: Drilling Off The N.C. Coast” was sponsored by the North Carolina Coastal Federation.
Offshore drilling has been a contentious topic on the coast since the Obama Administration released a five-year plan earlier this year to open the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf to seismic testing and, eventually, offshore oil drilling.
“There are benefits to more reasonably priced energy,” said Donald van der Vaart, the secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, at the conference. “It also spurs manufacturing, which also gives us good paying jobs. But there are clearly risks involved.”
Oil companies are just beginning to figure out how much oil might be off the coast, but estimates say it could be as much as five billion barrels. That’s a fraction of the amount estimated in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.
And while the range of proposed Atlantic lease sales extends from Virginia to Georgia, it’s likely that extractable oil and gas will be located in a highly-sensitive and ecologically important location due east of Salvo, called “The Point.”
“Based upon the history and geology of oil exploration, the target appears to be in the northern half of North Carolina,” said Rudi Rudolph, the shore protection manager in Carteret County.
Governor Pat McCrory is a supporter of offshore oil exploration and chairs the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition. He is pushing for a revenue-sharing plan between the federal government and the states and a reduction in the proposed 50-mile buffer. McCrory proposes using revenue from drilling to fund beach nourishment and coastal infrastructure.
A recent poll from Public Policy Polling found more coastal residents oppose offshore oil exploration than support it, by a 46-to-42 margin.
Wilmington is the latest coastal community to vote to oppose offshore drilling, joining about 60 other towns and counties in passing a resolution.