Both sides continue to debate offshore drilling

EASTERN CAROLINA, NC (WITN) For the past several years many along the coast felt that the fight to keep offshore drilling off of North Carolina's shores was over. But with recent moves by the federal government the potential for drilling is back on the table.

And with that potential for drilling comes impassioned arguments from groups both for and against it, including Governor Roy Cooper, who has asked for an exemption from drilling, similar to the one Florida received earlier this year.

Several organizations that pride themselves on their concern for the coast, came together recently to rally troops to share comments and information about the issue.

Crystal Coast Waterkeeper Larry Baldwin says, "It's the every day man on the street that said we don't need this off our coast. Our coast is beautiful, it's productive, it's a big part of our economy and we don't need it."

Andy Read, Director of the Duke University Marine Lab, says, "The studies that have been conducted show clear evidence of harm to all types of marine life, from small plankton that form the base of the food web, that everything depends on, to the largest whales that feed on that plankton."

And there is concern about the livelihood of the local fishing industries that make their home along the crystal coast.

Baldwin says, "We're not talking about huge companies, we're talking about a family that make their living off of what they can catch in those waters."

Penny Hooper with Citizens for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, says, "My husband has been a commercial fisherman here for 43 years. We know how important the environment is to the area and we want to keep drilling out. "

Representatives from the North Carolina Petroleum Council say drilling isn't an attack on employment, but would instead provide an opportunity for stable careers in an area with dominant seasonal employment.

David McGowan NC Petroleum Council Executive Director says, "There's a desperate need for good paying jobs that are sustainable and that can be taken advantage of by people that don't necessarily need a college degree."

But even with the potential for stable employment it's hard for many to get past even a small chance that something could go wrong resulting in something like a spill.

Michael Murdoch, Chairman of the Croatan Group of the Sierra Club, says, "We have a beautiful coast and it's just not worth the risk, no matter what financial rewards they bait in front of us."

Proponents of drilling say there will always be risks and that in this instance the risk is statistically small and that the economic windfall would be well worth it, touting numbers in the billions from studies like one in 2013 under the Obama Administration's last offshore drilling proposal.

McGowan says, "In that study, the numbers were in upwards of $4 billion a year in annual economic impact to the state and an excess of 55,000 jobs between now and the year 2035 "

One of the biggest concerns people who oppose offshore drilling have, particularly visitors to the beach, is the idea that the pristine view would be obstructed by offshore drilling rigs you could see from the beach. But according to government officials, that's just not the case.

McGowan cited that government study saying, "The fact of the matter is the resource base is anywhere from 40-60 miles offshore, even further than that. It is well offshore, such that you would absolutely not see any kind of drilling rigs."

And as the Trump Administration and federal government continue to press forward on opening the coast for drilling, those for and against will continue to drill home their message.