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Feds to hold public hearing on offshore oil, gas drilling

To top state officials, drilling for oil and gas off the North Carolina coast represents an employment opportunity for job-poor eastern North Carolina and a new revenue stream for cash-strapped governments.

But for many coastal officials and residents still mindful of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the spectre of drilling platforms offshore is too big of a risk for the region’s environment and tourist-dependent economy.

On Tuesday, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy and Management (BOEM) will hold a public hearing in Wrightsville Beach to discuss President Obama’s proposal to open up a stretch of the continental shelf from southern Virginia to Georgia to energy exploration.

The leasing proposal is part of a five-year plan that sets the boundaries for oil development in federal waters, which are from 3 to 200 miles offshore, through 2022. BOEM can limit, but not enlarge, the proposed leasing area before it is finalized later this year.

According to officials, any lease would likely require a 50-mile buffer to limit damage to coastal areas from a potential spill — a stipulation some Republicans believe to be too restrictive.

Areas off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard currently have no oil leases in federal waters. The Obama administration proposed one off coastal Virginia in 2010, but canceled it after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Related: Lowcountry divided on Obama offshore drilling plan

Many of North Carolina’s top officials expressed support for offshore drilling when the lease proposal was unveiled late last month.

Gov. Pat McCrory, who chairs the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, a group of coastal state governors favoring offshore energy development, said that responsible development of gas and oil off the coast will create thousands of jobs and generate billions in tax revenue.

The coalition wants the federal government to share energy royalties with coastal states to compensate local communities for infrastructure, environmental protection and other needs that could be created by offshore exploration.

But U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said the administration’s plan did not go far enough in unlocking all of the country’s potential offshore energy reserves.

“While I am glad that President Obama is now considering allowing offshore natural gas and oil exploration, his proposal is wholly inadequate and effectively prevents individual states from unlocking their full energy potential,” Tillis said in a statement.

Some environmentalists, on the other hand, think the government should be pushing a cleaner, less potentially damaging offshore energy source.

“As the administration moves to finalize this draft proposal, we hope they’ll recognize that North Carolina’s energy future should be focused on tapping our region’s large offshore wind potential,” stated the N.C. Sierra Club in a release. “Offshore drilling can have adverse onshore impacts for coastal communities, including the risk of oil spills and the industrialization of our coast.”


This article was written by Gareth McGrath from Star-News, Wilmington, N.C. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.