Op-Ed

North Carolina chooses oceans over oilfields

In an undated photo provided by VisitNC.com., a view from the top of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse shows the eastern end of Shackleford Banks, part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore.
In an undated photo provided by VisitNC.com., a view from the top of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse shows the eastern end of Shackleford Banks, part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. AP

The Trump administration’s new proposal to open the entire coastline of the lower 48 United States to oil and gas drilling, starting in 2019, is reckless and short-sighted. We in North Carolina need to voice our strong opposition to this draft offshore leasing plan before it devastates our state’s environment and economy.

In North Carolina, this proposal threatens our treasured Outer Banks coastlines and communities with toxic pollution and constant degradation by industrial extraction. The oil spills that inevitably come with offshore drilling would wreck our wildlife habitat, harm our fisheries and hamstring our tourism economy.

As a part of the biggest proposed offshore drilling initiative in U.S. history, U.S Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has unveiled a plan to open the entire North Carolina coastline to oil and gas drilling and fracking. The Outer Banks would never be the same.

Our climate would suffer. My organization, the Center for Biological Diversity, calculates that the burning of the oil and gas proposed for leases in this plan would release 49.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide pollution, or the equivalent of a year’s worth of emissions from 10.6 billion cars.

Unleashing a carbon bomb of that magnitude would be devastating for North Carolina and other coastal communities grappling with sea-level rise. The plan would even grant leases to drill in the Arctic Ocean, a hazardous and unpredictable region where a major oil spill would be impossible to clean up.

But climate change isn’t the only environmental dumpster fire the feds seem hell-bent on feeding with as much oil and gas as they can find. The administration’s proposal to auction off our oceans to oil companies reveals a dangerous amnesia about offshore drilling’s threats to the marine environment and our coastal communities.

When BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in 2010, killing 11 workers and thousands of marine animals, it spilled 210 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf Coast communities are still recovering from that man-made disaster, which spawned new federal safety regulations for the oil industry.

Yet even as Trump seeks to expand offshore leasing, this administration is rolling back these common-sense safety regulations to make way for maximum oil and gas extraction.

North Carolinians understand that the short-term economic activity that offshore drilling would create is not worth the permanent pain we would be stuck with once the oil has been sucked dry.

A 2017 poll by Public Policy Polling found that 77 percent of North Carolinians are concerned that an oil spill would harm our vigorous tourist economy, and 64 percent say they or a loved one would be personally financially harmed by an oil spill.

Nearly one in five state residents said that their livelihoods are dependent on the ocean or beach tourism economy. Perhaps this is why Governor Cooper has come out forcefully against drilling off our coast.

But we all have to speak up if we want to protect this beautiful home we know and love. During a hearing from 3 to 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Hilton North Raleigh/Midtown, you can tell the feds what you think about offshore drilling in North Carolina. And if you can’t make it out in person, the federal government is accepting comments though February (you can submit one online here).

North Carolina wants oceans, not oilfields.

Perrin de Jong works in Asheville as the North Carolina staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

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