The Editors' Blog

July 27, 2014

The offshore oil clock is ticking

A dozen years from now, oil companies might be drilling off the East Coast, including off the coast of North Carolina. An entire industrial sector supporting the drilling may be springing up from Charleston to Morehead City to Norfolk.

A dozen years from now, oil companies might be drilling off the East Coast, including off the coast of North Carolina. An entire industrial sector supporting the drilling may be springing up from Charleston to Morehead City to Norfolk.

Maybe you saw the story recently about seismic testing in the Atlantic getting the green light from the feds. The AP story described it as “the first real step toward what could be an economic transformation in East Coast states, potentially creating a new energy infrastructure, thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in tax revenue.”

The next sentence in the story summed up the perspective of those who were not thrilled by this decision by the Obama administration: “. . .[I]t dismayed people who owe their livelihoods to fisheries and tourism, and activists said it stains President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy.”

No drilling will take place until the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management finishes its next five-year leasing plan, covering 2017-2022. According to the folks at the state Department of Energy and Natural Resources, exploration could start as early as 2019-2020. A report done for the American Petroleum Institute said that oil could be flowing by 2026.

None of this is a done deal. Another bad spill like the Deepwater Horizon is the kind of thing that could stop Atlantic exploration in its tracks.

But offshore drilling has gotten a geopolitical boost lately. Some of the most important oil suppliers on this planet are unstable, unreliable and increasingly hostile (Russia). Energy independence has a lot of appeal. And there’s 89 billion barrels of oil and 400 trillion cubic feet of natural gas sitting beneath America’s Outer Continental Shelf - including along the Eastern Seaboard - that is undiscovered and recoverable, according to the feds.

Of course, there are those who argue that with conservation and a strong push behind renewables like solar and wind, we could get there without Atlantic drilling and we wouldn’t need to put the Outer Banks and our fishing grounds at risk of spills.

And that pretty much frames the debate we’re going to be having over the next few years.

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