North Carolinians told federal representatives Thursday that the nation needs to take stock of its oil and natural gas reserves off the Atlantic Coast as a way to bring jobs and revenue to the state and promote energy independence.
"We need to begin now," New Hanover County Commissioner Jason Thompson told a hearing held by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
He said that oil and natural gas could mean 35,000 new jobs for the state and $4 billion in new tax revenue through the year 2030 if drilling is allowed.
The bureau has been holding hearings along the East Coast for two weeks on an environmental impact statement on the rules that would govern surveying for energy offshore. A hearing was also held Thursday in Wilmington, Del. and the public meetings wind up on Friday in Atlantic City, N.J.
More than 80 people attended the Thursday afternoon hearing in Wilmington -- 23 people spoke and 16 of them favored allowing the energy search to proceed. Opponents worried that using sonic equipment to map the ocean's floor could hurt marine mammals such as whales.
The impact statement has several alternatives. One includes most of the requirements already in effect in the Gulf of Mexico concerning energy exploration. A second alternative would include those rules and more, expanding areas closed to seismic surveys and banning the surveys for longer periods during the calving season for the North America right whale.
The third alternative, the no action alternative, would be to do nothing and, in effect not allow any searches for oil and natural gas off the Atlantic coast. The agency is taking 60 days of public comment on the 1,500 page document through the end of May and a decision on which alternative to follow is expected by year's end. It includes areas from the 3-mile state territorial limits out another 350 miles to sea.
The bureau said that nine companies have already sought permission to survey off the coast. The last time there were such surveys was in the 1970s and early 1980s and the technology for such work has improved since then.
Carina Barnett-Loro of the North Carolina Sierra Club said instead of looking at oil and natural gas, the nation needs to look at other offshore sources of energy.
"North Carolina has the largest offshore wind reserves of any state on the East Coast," she said.
Jack Spruill of the environmental group PenderWatch and Conservancy added that going forward with oil and gas exploration off the North Carolina coast is not good public policy.
Dan Cameron, who said he was "representing the people of North Carolina who work," said that transportation is crucial to the state's economy and everyone has a car. The natural gas off the coast, he said, could be a stopgap until less polluting fuels are found.
"We have to have something happen in our lifetime that is a bridge," he said. "Natural gas is a viable energy source that I can already put in my car Please give us an opportunity to see if it is available."
"This would bring down the price of gas and it would help on our national security" because the nation would not have to get energy from others, said Ann Sullivan of Goldboro, N.C.
Paul Duval told the hearing that the water is no place to be drilling for oil.
"They've done ruined the Gulf of Mexico," he said. "We've got plenty of oil and gas on land. Do your drilling on the land."