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Date ArticleType
8/17/2015 Other
Donald R. van der Vaart - Offshore drilling can be done safely

Donald R. van der Vaart - Offshore drilling can be done safely


In contrast to Wilmington's recent resolution, I'm confident we can successfully balance the economic benefits of offshore energy exploration with responsible stewardship of our environment.

During the past five years we have enjoyed an oil and gas revolution in America. The use of hydraulic fracturing has led to lower energy prices nationwide through the rapid expansion of oil and gas production on private lands. President Obama has signaled that he, too, wants to contribute to the energy revolution by opening offshore areas to oil and gas production, including areas off North Carolina's coast.

Gov. Pat McCrory also recognizes how much North Carolina and the nation stand to benefit from offshore energy exploration but is aware we must have the appropriate environmental safeguards in place before exploration begins. Concerns about protecting our coastal resources, our quality of life and our tourism-driven economy are understandable and not incompatible with the need to build upon our successes at creating jobs. In order to manage risks associated with offshore development, Gov. McCrory believes funding must be provided to the coastal communities that inherit the highest risk. As a national leader on the issue, and in contrast to the Obama administration, Governor McCrory has made it clear it would be irresponsible to allow offshore energy exploration without revenue sharing to provide coastal communities necessary resources for environmental protection and mitigation.

Revenue sharing could generate as much as $4 billion for North Carolina. That money would provide funding for infrastructure, dredging, coastal management and other programs to ensure responsible development of offshore energy resources.

Moreover, North Carolina has the potential to gain 55,000 jobs by 2035 in industries supporting offshore energy production. That includes engineers, supply boat crews, shipbuilders, and crane operators, as well as suppliers, shipyards, healthcare and housing. North Carolina has more than 64 million acres of federal offshore acreage – the most on the East Coast – and stands to benefit from offshore energy exploration more than any other Atlantic state.

Bear in mind that oil and gas production is many years away. Long before production begins we must determine the location and extent of our offshore resources through seismic surveying. The seismic data we have today was collected 30 years ago and must be updated to help us make informed decisions about how North Carolina should move forward.

Improvements in seismic technology and computer modeling allow us to pinpoint the location of potential oil and natural gas reserves, which improves safety and reduces the environmental impacts. Seismic data also helps site locations for offshore wind turbines, which are a renewable energy source with great promise here. We know from experience that federal safeguards eliminate or greatly reduce the impacts of seismic surveying on human, marine and coastal environments. A seismic survey conducted off the coast of North Carolina in 2014 by the National Science Foundation used the same seismic technology proposed for oil and gas surveying and produced no complaints and no observed adverse impacts on the environment.

Gov. McCrory has encouraged the Obama administration to approve permits for seismic surveying, establish multiple oil and gas lease sales in the Atlantic Ocean, and provide revenue sharing to state and local governments. Once those needs are met, North Carolina will be able to harness the economic benefits from America's offshore energy reserves in an environmentally safe and responsible manner.

Donald R. van der Vaart is secretary of the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources.