In these divisive times, where can you build consensus between nearly all coastal governors, more than 2,200 elected officials across the political spectrum, 360 municipalities, 47,000 businesses, and 500,000 fishing families, as well as faith and conservation leaders? This wide-ranging coalition agrees that new offshore oil extraction in North Carolina would be a disaster, and would pose serious environmental risks, harm local economies and fail to pay off for our families and businesses. North Carolina’s U.S. Senate delegation should heed the calls of its constituents and block new drilling on our coastline.
Opening North Carolina’s coast to offshore oil extraction would be devastating to our vibrant coastal tourism, conservation efforts and ecological sustainability. Beyond that, it would represent a massive disruption to countless coastal communities. North Carolina’s clean coast economies are proven economic drivers for this state, with vacationers visiting every year from across the country. Jeopardizing that for new and unnecessary oil drilling would be destructive to the state’s economy, and also to many North Carolinians’ way of life.
From the start, overcoming short-term oil infrastructure challenges would be no small feat. North Carolina isn’t a Gulf Coast state, but its offshore oil extraction efforts would have to compete immediately with Texas’ and Louisiana’s massive, entrenched oil infrastructure the moment they went online. To catch up, our infrastructure costs would be substantial to get off the ground, including the need to vastly increase port capacity and hurry on-shore refineries into construction. That requires identifying and securing land close to the source of production — a near-impossible task. Those Gulf Coast oil states have a decades-long head start in extraction from rig to refinery, and yet North Carolina would necessarily sacrifice valuable port infrastructure and large swathes of land to rush into an industry that is oversaturated and whose economic value has already plateaued.
Some of the staunchest community resistance to offshore drilling comes from North Carolina’s coastal towns, which have made clear their on-the-record opposition to these oil extraction efforts. Coastal communities know their economic future relies upon tourism, and oil extraction would severely undermine that future. They also recognize that oil is a globally traded commodity, so the notion that North Carolinians would benefit from low prices at the pump is a pipe dream. In short, erecting offshore drilling infrastructure from scratch would be complicated, but winning over the coastal cities and towns most impacted by this industry would be impossible.
Capturing the promised economic opportunities over time would be just as unlikely. The value of a barrel of oil can fluctuate wildly based on global variables that are largely out of North Carolina’s control. In turn, the long-term economic benefits to this state would be at best gradual and unpredictable, while the liabilities and deterring factors would be immediately apparent. Meanwhile, this would represent another massive investment in greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels as climate disruption intensifies.
Regarding the ecological impacts of offshore oil extraction, any new drilling would undoubtedly threaten the future of our oceans, national parks, marine life and climate. The process begins with identifying oil deposits using seismic airgun blasts, which can be heard from thousands of miles away, disrupting vulnerable marine life. After oil deposits are found, the drilling begins, and so does the air pollution, emitting nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and sulfur oxides — and that’s assuming there are no spills like the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon. Our elected officials should hold our public waters in trust and protect our natural resources for the benefit of future generations, not give them away to the oil and gas giants.
Luckily, the U.S. House of Representatives has heeded the calls from North Carolina’s communities, recently passing two bipartisan bills to block offshore drilling. Now it’s time for the U.S. Senate to follow suit. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis should follow other Republican lawmakers’ lead and introduce legislation in the Senate to protect North Carolina’s coasts from new offshore drilling. Sen. Tillis is up for reelection next year, and constituents from the state’s fishing and hospitality sector, as well as all those concerned about the climate crisis, will be watching to see whether he puts the needs of North Carolinians first, or big oil.
Let’s be clear. Offshore drilling is nothing short of a Vegas bet, with coastal tourism and economies on the line, so the question is simple: Are we willing to risk North Carolina’s coast and its communities on the prospect of capturing an improbable economic benefit from such a volatile sector as offshore oil extraction? Would you take that bet? Every member of North Carolina’s congressional delegation should demonstrate their commitment to protecting our coasts from economic and environmental ruin by opposing the expansion of offshore drilling and acting to permanently protect our coasts. The future of North Carolina’s economy, wildlife, and families depends on it.