KDH mayor weighs in with students on offshore drilling

By on May 4, 2015

Deepwater Horizon

The Deepwater Horizon on April 21, 2010. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Commentary by Kill Devil Hills Mayor Sheila Davies; Emily Mangan ‘16, Skidmore College, Environmental Studies, Government; Charles Lovejoy ’16, Skidmore College, Environmental Science

On April 15, Gov. Pat McCrory testified before the U.S. House of Representatives panel on Energy and Mineral Resources about the Obama administration’s proposal to open up the Atlantic to offshore drilling for oil and gas. The drilling would take place along the coast from Virginia to Georgia, directly impacting the Outer Banks region.

The offshore drilling could provide huge economic benefits for some parts of the region. It could benefit the towns and cities that would process the oil coming in from the rigs, create jobs in harbor towns and increase overall energy security in the U.S. Or that’s what the oil industry would like us to believe.

For the Outer Banks, offshore drilling poses a huge threat. The area will not see any of the economic benefits. Areas like Wilmington or Norfolk could potentially be ports to bring in the oil, creating jobs and bringing in revenue.

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But the Outer Banks does not have any of the necessary infrastructure. The Outer Banks won’t see any of the job creation and offshore drilling will not boost the economy of the area in any way. Tourism is the biggest industry for the Outer Banks, and anything that threatens that industry or doesn’t support it, just doesn’t make sense.

According to the Department of the Interior, oil leases would allow drilling and exploration between 2017 and 2022. It would permit drilling 50 miles offshore, creating a buffer zone to protect tourism, fishing, wildlife ecosystems, and offshore wind projects.

While this buffer zone seems to make sense at first, a 50-mile buffer wouldn’t prevent destruction from a spill. Just one spill could have impacts for decades, destroy the coastline and eliminate the tourism industry. All Americans are familiar with the effects of the BP oil spill in the Gulf area in 2010, which cost the local fishing and tourism industries an estimated $25 billion and generated ecological and public health consequences that will last a generation.

Gov. McCrory is fundamentally in support of the proposed oil drilling. But he decried the proposal’s 50-mile buffer zone, claiming that it should be reduced to just 30 miles. In a comment left on the Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (DPP), Gov. McCrory claimed that drilling 30 miles offshore would leave the shoreline view entirely unobstructed.

Being able to see the oil rig from the shore, however, isn’t the problem. Moving the drilling closer to the shore does not reduce the threat of a spill and the damage that comes along with it. The BP oil spill in 2010 occurred just 41 miles off the coast.

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While the governor is advocating for more drilling closer to shore, cities and towns on the coast have passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling and oil exploration. Coastal tourism is vital to North Carolina’s economy. According to North Carolina’s Department of Commerce, nine coastal counties generated more than $2.6 billion in tourism spending in 2013. This revenue from tourism greatly outweighs any potential benefits to the community from offshore drilling.

Mayor Sheila Davies of Kill Devil Hills notes: “We rely on clean beaches to bring people here. If something happens to these beaches and degrades the water quality and affects the fishing, it will have a significant impact on our economy.”

The economic risk is not worth the uncertain and potential gain associated with offshore drilling. In 2013, a record $20.2 billion in domestic visitor/tourism spending was realized in North Carolina. Out of the 100 counties in the State of North Carolina, in terms of travel expenditures, three of the top 10 counties are coastal, including No. 4 Dare County, which generated $953,040,000 and more than 11,750 jobs.

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Dare County alone provides 5 percent of North Carolina’s travel income.

Additionally, the National Marine Fisheries Service reported fish landings in 2012 in North Carolina to be worth $72,912,625. Mayor Davies says there is widespread opposition to offshore drilling in Kill Devil Hills and in other towns and municipalities along the NC coast. Despite this opposition, the governor still supports this dangerous activity.

In spite of numerous crises and oil spills throughout the world during the past few decades, the oil industry continues to argue for increased drilling in an ever-wider area. Spokespeople for major oil companies’ claim that they have learned their lessons from the BP and Exxon Valdez oil spills, but what is at stake for the people of the Outer Banks if they are wrong?

Can we, with a clear conscience, allow the oil industry to threaten our pristine beaches and marine wildlife all in the name of economic development when most of it will not even benefit our communities?


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