To Drill or Not to Drill

_DJ23922I attended the October 14 Special Meeting & Workshop of the Swansboro City Council. The first half of the meeting consisted of presentations by four experts concerning off-shore oil drilling and seismic surveys.

Greg Rudolph opened with an overview of the off-shore drilling process, a general overview of seismic blasting, what the oil industry expects to find on our coast, the minimum time frame in which things might happen, locations, and some projected revenue numbers, along with how revenue may or may not be shared.

I took away a few things from his presentation. I was surprised to hear that the area that is expected to be the most productive is mostly inside the 50 mile exclusion zone. Apparently, that’s why our governor is working to reduce the exclusion zone to 30 miles. Another item that struck me was that outside 3 miles distance from our coast, there is no current law that says the federal government has to share any of the revenue with the state. A revenue sharing agreement must be passed by the U.S. legislature before North Carolina would get any money from off-shore drilling, unless it was right on our coastline (within 3 miles). Even if the state did get money from the federal government thanks to some kind of revenue sharing legislation, the State of North Carolina, would get first dibs on the money, and it’s unlikely that much, if any money would flow down to the local level.

_DJ23925Our next speaker was Dr. Douglas Nowacek. He explained what we do and do not know about the impacts of seismic air guns (used for seismic surveys) on marine wildlife. The good doctor explained that, although we haven’t documented immediate harm to individual marine animals, we have lots of evidence that would lead a rational person to conclude that constant loud noises (seismic airguns are the loudest sound humans put into the ocean, and seismic surveys continue through the drilling process) displace, disrupt, and otherwise annoy the creatures that are bombarded with them. He pointed out that noise levels were shown to change foraging patterns, cause animals to eat less, negatively impact reproduction, and other things you’d expect if an animal was under stress from repeated loud noises. Seismic airguns are very loud, and they can be heard for thousands of miles.

_DJ23926If you guessed that, in the interest of getting all sides of the story, the next speaker would be an industry shill, you’d be right. I must say that he was well chosen, in that he claims to have grown up in the area and has the area’s best interests at heart. David McGowen, the Executive Director of the North Carolina Petroleum Council took the stand and told us that there was no conclusive evidence of adverse effects on marine wildlife by seismic testing. To be fair, he was very respectful of the previous two speakers. However, his job was to allay our fears and convince us that there was great economic opportunity, and little to no danger of environmental damage. He also pointed out that the public is allowed to comment at every stage in the permitting process, in a bid to convince the council that it didn’t need to take any action in the near term. If you want the details of David’s presentation, you can get his sales pitch from Energy Tomorrow’s web-site.

_DJ23932Our final speaker was Jessie Hawkins. Jessie had a long resume’ that I didn’t manage to scribble into my notes, but I did catch that he was with the Division of Marine Fisheries for 30 years. What was most obvious about Jessie was that he is passionate about fish and the unique features of North Carolina’s coast that support them. He pointed out that North Carolina gets around a billion dollars a year from sustainable commercial fishing and tourism. He described what makes our estuaries and coastal waters unique and invaluable. He also pointed out that there is a lot we don’t know about the deep water spawning areas along our coast and how they might be impacted by oil drilling. Mr. Hawkins did an excellent job of explaining why we shouldn’t be too quick to gamble with our natural resources. He even suggested that a more sustainable solution might be to build wind farms to harvest the huge wind potential along our coast.

My thoughts on all this, are in line with Jessie Hawkins. I think we need to stop gambling with our natural resources to drill for fossil fuels when we know fossil fuels are not sustainable. You probably expected that from me. However, I have another thought: If we did get 55,000 jobs, as the proponents advertise, those jobs would come with the infrastructure that accompanies dirty industry. If you haven’t been to New Jersey, I suggest you fly into the Newark airport and check out the coast of New Jersey as you make your final approach. If you don’t want to visit NJ, try Houston. There is a reason why people come to North Carolina to enjoy the beach, and there is a reason why I live here, and not on the coast of New Jersey. Sure, economic development is a great thing, but the oil industry would destroy everything I love about eastern North Carolina. If I wanted to live in a booming metropolis and get up every morning to the smell of crude oil, there are lots of places I could go. I live here because the air is fresh, the beaches are clean, I can swim in the water, and I can eat the local seafood, among other things. The world doesn’t need more oil. The world needs clean, safe water and an environment that provides us with food and a good life.

Doug Toltzman

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