North Carolina is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. However, many people in counties outside the booming Research Triangle and other urban centers are still struggling. While seasonal tourism drives much of the eastern half of the state, and is a vital piece of the statewide economy, a lot of North Carolinians are left searching for stable job opportunities that can provide a good income year-round. Thankfully, those jobs and accompanied economic benefits could be just around the corner.
As the U.S. Department of the Interior finalizes the updated five-year leasing program for offshore natural gas and oil exploration, North Carolina stands to greatly benefit from thousands of new jobs, private investment, and subsequent state and local tax revenues that would follow from the Atlantic being included in the program.
While we wait to hear what future is decided for federal waters in the Atlantic, the governor and others continue their efforts to appease small but vocal groups aimed at putting a stop to offshore exploration, uninterested in hearing about the many benefits it could bring to our state. This unreasonable position puts the governor and his allies in stark contrast with the more than 200 members of the Explore Offshore coalition, which is made up of small businesses, trade associations, veterans and citizens who support increased access to our domestic energy resources.
As business and community leaders, Explore Offshore recognizes the many real and tangible benefits opening the Atlantic to offshore natural gas and oil exploration will have for communities – especially those in North Carolina. The coalition continues to urge the federal government to include the Atlantic in the final leasing program and not undercut the state residents eager to fill the jobs that are expected to follow.
Of all the states on the Atlantic coast, North Carolina stands to benefit the most if the Atlantic remains in the five-year program. Our longer coastline would give us access to more of the projected resources in the outer continental shelf. Offshore development could create nearly 56,000 jobs, and contribute over $3 billion a year in annual spending within two decades. Beyond the economic benefits, these additional resources could contribute significantly to a state whose economy is so heavily reliant on affordable energy.
Opening additional offshore territories for energy development is a long-term national investment in securing the energy and economic outlook for our future.. Even with recent advances in renewable energy, 67 percent of energy supplies used by Americans come from natural gas and oil.
North Carolina has a unique and important opportunity. The draft five-year program announced by the Department of the Interior included the Atlantic for a reason, and political efforts driven special interests to undermine that announcement should not detract from the economic impact this program could have on the lives of thousands of residents in North Carolina.
As a former mayor, I fully understand the dedication and work it takes every day to improve the lives of North Carolina residents. For that reason, it is difficult for me to understand the logic of politicians who are so quick to oppose offshore energy development. This obstructive position is only a disservice to residents across the state, whether they voted for them or not.
The evidence for opening the Atlantic to offshore natural gas and oil exploration speaks for itself. Doing so could lead to more jobs, economic growth, affordable and reliable energy, and strengthened national security. Should opponents get their way and have the Atlantic removed from the final leasing program, these benefits will not be realized. I encourage state and federal officials to recognize these very real benefits and support keeping the Atlantic, and the benefits that would flow to North Carolina, in the leasing program.
Nat Robertson is a former mayor of Fayetteville and co-chair of Explore Offshore NC.