North Carolina could reap a great deal of both the potential rewards and costs if the Atlantic coastline were to be opened up to oil and gas exploration.
Energy industry trade groups and their political supporters are ramping up the pressure on the federal government to grant companies a free hand to exploit oil and gas deposits off the East Coast.
They promise such exploration and development will produce a flurry of new jobs and economic growth while helping the country further reduce its dependence on imported oil.
The decades-long ban on East Coast oil drilling was lifted in 2008, and the Obama administration is expected to announce a decision in the coming months on whether to allow seismic testing on the ocean floor to better determine the amount of oil and gas located underneath the coastal waters.
Current estimates project a total average yield of about 3.3 billions barrels of oil -- roughly the equivalent of what Saudi Arabia produced last year.
A recent study by the American Petroleum Institute projects that North Carolina could experience the greatest job creation results from an offshore energy industry, with as many as 20,000 new jobs being created over 15 years if exploration were to begin in 2017.
But those industry projections don’t take into account the potential for adverse environmental impacts or the economic costs to the state’s existing tourism and fisheries industries.
Offshore development would require the construction of a massive support infrastructure, which could certainly negatively affect the important inland waterways and wetlands across Eastern North Carolina. And oil spills and drilling rig accidents are a fact of life in the coastal waters where offshore drilling is allowed in other parts of the country.
Many elected officials are championing industry claims of an easy financial bonanza from offshore energy production without paying much heed to the very real risks that accompany such an industry or even a clear understanding of how much oil and gas deposits are actually located along the coast.
North Carolina’s beaches and coastal waters -- from the Outer Banks to the South Carolina border -- are an economic, cultural, recreational and natural treasure.
They are certainly too valuable to be put at risk without a thorough knowledge of what the negative consequences versus the actual rewards will be.
And we’re a long way from that point.