May 31, 2017
By Tom Kies
MOREHEAD CITY — The Carteret County Chamber of Commerce, with its nearly 900 members, advocates for businesses in the region. Our legislative agenda is shared with lawmakers locally and at the state and federal levels.
There is one issue on our Chamber’s agenda that is catching national attention. The Chamber’s Board of Directors unanimously approved opposing offshore drilling and seismic testing in the Atlantic:
The Carteret County Chamber opposes seismic blasting and the exploration and drilling for oil and natural gas off the North Carolina coast in the Atlantic Ocean, because these actions would pose a direct threat to the state’s coastal environment. The risk of pollution and other harmful effects to marine mammals, turtles, fish, migratory birds and other aquatic life is far greater than estimated revenues from offshore drilling.
In September of last year, our chamber co-founded the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, or BAPAC. Today BAPAC has the support of more than 41,000 businesses and 500,000 commercial fishing families from Maine to Florida. Working with BAPAC, we successfully stopped the last administration from issuing permits for the destructive, old technology of seismic testing for oil reserves in the Atlantic. Fortunately, offshore drilling for oil along the Atlantic Coast had earlier been rejected.
However, since then President Trump issued an executive order instructing the Department of Interior to set the seismic permit denials aside and continue to review the six permit applications for seismic testing in federal waters stretching from Delaware to Florida. That process has resumed. In addition, the executive order also called on Interior to consider restarting the planning process that could result in approval of Atlantic Coast offshore drilling for oil and gas.
Since seismic testing would happen first, what’s at stake?
Earlier this year a report was issued describing a research study of how a small scale seismic testing effort off the coast of North Carolina impacted fish use of reefs. The results were dramatic. The seismic noise resulted in a 78 percent drop in fish gathering at the reef, clearly demonstrating how fish change their behavior to avoid the intense noise. This behavioral change has been shown to reduce commercial fish catches in other countries by up to 70 percent.
What About the Economy?
What effects could offshore drilling have on the economy? Let’s take a look at where we are currently.
North Carolina’s beaches and inlets generate $3 billion in revenue each year and directly support 39,000 jobs. Expenditures for recreation and tourism in 2009 in the state’s oceanfront counties were more than $2 billion and accounted for 28,000 jobs.
The economic impact of private boating in 2008 was $140 million, supporting 5,821 jobs. In that same year, coastal marinas had direct sales of $90 million, supporting 2,252 jobs.
The economic impact of the state’s seafood industry in 2008 totaled more than $336 million with 5,821 jobs. Sport fishing contributed more than $446 million, supporting 6,368 jobs.
A reminder: The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 resulted in a spill of 4.9 million barrels, or nearly 206 million gallons, of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, making it the largest accidental oil spill in history.
Every aspect of offshore drilling, from exploration to transporting the product from the drilling site, has implications for marine life and coastal communities. Even the seismic air gun blasting associated with oil exploration is linked to injuries to marine mammals and, as can be seen by the article quoted above, driving indigenous marine life away or affecting their breeding cycle, which harms our commercial fishing industry.
Given the obvious threat that offshore drilling for oil poses to North Carolina, what reasons do drilling supporters have for risking our economy?
Most often the argument is that coastal communities should take the risk for the sake of the nation’s energy security. However, President Trump’s proposed FY 2018 budget undercuts this argument by advocating that the United States sell off half of the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which was created in 1975 in a national energy security effort.
In defending the proposed oil sell-off from the reserve, Mick Mulvaney, Office of Management and Budget director for the president, pointed out that domestic oil production is up and the U.S. is importing less oil.
“We think it’s the responsible thing to do.” Mr. Mulvaney told the press. “I don’t need to take this much of your money to bury it in the ground out in West Texas someplace for domestic security and national security reasons when we have domestic supplies like we do.”
With the administration recognizing that energy security is not in jeopardy, the issue no longer justifies support for offshore drilling in the Atlantic.
Supporters of Atlantic Coast offshore drilling also often point to the Gulf Coast states and the revenue sharing they receive from the federal government oil royalties. They argue that this could be new revenue to supplement the budgets of Atlantic Coast states if drilling were allowed.
But the Trump budget would eliminate this rationale also. The proposed budget would end existing revenue sharing with Gulf of Mexico states, thus allowing more revenue for the federal government. Obviously, revenue sharing would not be offered to Atlantic Coast states.
Only one reason remains for pro-drilling advocates: jobs for local economies. Yet, 123 Atlantic Coast local governments have passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling. They do not want the jobs that would come from industrializing their coasts and displacing their current tourism, commercial fishing and recreational economies.
Essentially there are no good reasons for Atlantic Coast offshore drilling for oil. Simply put, it’s not good for the business community anywhere along the coast and especially in North Carolina.
Mr. Kies is the President and CEO of the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce.