Estimates on the potential economic benefits of on- or off-shore drilling in North Carolina vary so widely that it's impossible to draw a conclusion, because there are so many unknowns.
That's the word that the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy heard on Tuesday during a presentation by N.C. State University economics professor Michael Walden of a report he completed a year ago.
"I think we all know we don't have a clue what's down there," observed Rep. Mike Stone, a Republican who represents Harnett and Lee counties.
For instance, Walden's estimate of the number of offshore jobs that could be created range from 118 to 72,005 – from the most pessimistic to the most optimistic, he said. Jobs from onshore drilling could be as few as 132 and as many as 7,994.
Republicans on the committee pushed Walden to say the outlook could be brighter if it turns out North Carolina has more oil and natural gas than estimated.
Rep. Trudy Wade of Greensboro cited North Dakota's low unemployment rate and high average salaries amid that state's oil boom, and asked Walden if the same thing couldn't happen here.
"I do not foresee that kind of economic boom in North Carolina," Walden replied.
On the other hand, Walden conceded Sen. Buck Newton's point that if the state has more natural gas offshore than expected, the job picture would improve by that amount. "That's fair, as a first cut," the professor said.