North Carolina is at the center of the country’s energy news, as plans for both possible oil drilling and wind development off the state’s coast move forward and an energy summit comes to the state.
On Thursday, Wilmington will host this year’s Coastal Energy Summit, which is sponsored by the pro-drilling American Petroleum Institute and the American Wind Energy Association and brings together local, state and national leaders to discuss U.S. energy needs. The summit, where Gov. Pat McCrory will provide a keynote address, comes on the heels of two major federal announcements on North Carolina’s future energy development.
The first was the decision by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to move forward with its plans to open up the Atlantic Ocrean to seismic airgun blasting. BOEM is in the process of reviewing applications for companies to begin blasting compressed air into the ocean to locate oil and gas deposits deep beneath the seafloor.
Because the information gathered will not be publicly shared, multiple companies could be blasting at once, with blasts going off every 10 seconds for days and weeks at time. The government estimates that this practice could injure more than 138,000 marine mammals, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. Further, fish stocks in the area could be threatened by airguns, putting local tourism and coastal economies at risk.
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Already, 10 North Carolina towns have passed resolutions opposing seismic blasting and raising concerns about offshore drilling in the Atlantic. Nags Head was the most recent town to pass a resolution against these practices, joining Carolina Beach, Caswell Beach, Topsail Beach, Oak Island, St. James, Manteo, Southport, Kill Devil Hills and Sunset Beach. In spite of the growing and consistent opposition on the coasts, BOEM has already begun reviewing nine applications for seismic blasting, which could start as early as 2015.
The second announcement to come from BOEM was on offshore wind-energy development. BOEM announced that it had identified three wind-energy areas off the North Carolina coast to be auctioned for offshore wind development: “Kitty Hawk” near the Outer Banks, and the “Wilmington East” and “Wilmington West” sites. These three combined areas make up over 300,000 acres and could produce enough energy to power over 2 million homes.
Offshore wind provides an important opportunity for this country to expand its domestic energy production and remain committed to providing safe and renewable energy. With the highest wind energy potential of any state on the East Coast, North Carolina could get all of its electricity needs met from offshore wind alone, while providing thousands of safe jobs in the process. Offshore wind-energy production does not come with the environmental risks present with offshore drilling, demonstrated time and time again in spills all over the country. One look at the 2010 BP disaster in the Gulf shows how a single accident can devastate an entire region.
The upcoming summit will focus on both offshore oil and gas exploration and offshore wind development. While both methods could provide energy and jobs for North Carolina, only offshore wind development could do so without putting coastal towns and the local beach and marine environments at risk from seismic blasting dangers, daily oil leaks or major spills, and oil transportation accidents. To add insult to injury, oil and gas are exported out of this country and refined and used away from the coast, whereas offshore wind provides power directly to the state and coastal communities.
As this conference gets underway, the people of North Carolina need to continue to make sure their voices are heard on where they want their energy to come from. North Carolina’s beautiful coast is one that attracts people from all over the world, so it’s important to seriously consider what type of energy production will work safely and reliably off these shores for decades to come.
Andrew Menaquale of Washington is an energy analyst at Oceana, an international ocean conservation and advocacy organization.