Op-Ed

Why North Carolina should embrace offshore energy exploration

Booths with detailed information about several factors used to consider offshore drilling were set up in a ballroom at the Hilton North Raleigh Midtown Hotel by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on February 26, 2018.
Booths with detailed information about several factors used to consider offshore drilling were set up in a ballroom at the Hilton North Raleigh Midtown Hotel by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on February 26, 2018. jwall@newsobserver.com

Last month, North Carolinians were sorely disappointed when Toyota chose Alabama over North Carolina for its new $1.6 billion plant, which would have brought jobs and investments to our state. Economic development prospects and the benefits that come along with them are sorely needed to ensure that our young people are able to find good quality jobs and profit from a strong economic future.

Similar to the potential economic benefits from the Toyota plant or other business opportunities, offshore energy exploration and production could bring lots of crucial economic and energy benefits to our state. The U.S. Department of the Interior is currently considering a five-year leasing plan off the shores of our coast, which is an important step towards harnessing North Carolina’s energy potential for the benefit of our consumers and families.

While the opposition’s environmental and national security concerns are currently dominating the headlines, it is important to remember that there is value in viewing the full picture. The administration’s plan will give our nation the ability to assess what energy resources exist and then potentially access those resources to help meet growing domestic and global demand – which can lead to affordable energy for consumers, manufacturers, and businesses.

Right now, we don’t know what resources might be located off the North Carolina coast. It is way past time to learn what resources are there so we can make decisions about our energy future – the nation’s energy future – with the most accurate data possible.

It’s been more than 30 years since safe seismic surveys for oil and natural gas resources were conducted in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Today’s cutting-edge technology will help us fill in the blanks beyond our outdated data and help us to make informed decisions about our energy future. These seismic surveys are already used safely every day around the world including by organizations like the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Science Foundation.

William Brown, Chief Environmental Officer for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management under President Obama stated unequivocally: “To date, there has been no documented scientific evidence of … seismic activities adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities. This technology has been used for more than 30 years around the world. It is still used in US waters off the Gulf of Mexico with no known detrimental impact to marine animal populations or to commercial fishing.”

Studies have indicated that more than 50,000 jobs could be created in North Carolina over 20 years as a result of offshore exploration and production. These activities could create jobs across industries, not just in the energy sector alone, where $101,000 is the average salary paid for non-gas station jobs. That would go a long way for the average family budget in Eastern North Carolina. Experts estimate that over $3 billion a year would be spent in North Carolina over the same time period and that there is a potential for over $450 million per year for the state, if the revenue sharing agreement is included in the final plan.

The working families of North Carolina can and will benefit from the additional U.S. energy resources that might be discovered in the Atlantic OCS. Revenue generated directly and indirectly through offshore exploration could help fund our public schools and infrastructure in our rural communities that are in dire need.

I ask all North Carolinas to look at the bigger picture, the facts, and to explore the possibilities of offshore with an open mind.

David McGowan is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Petroleum Institute.

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