WILMINGTON — As the debate over offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean continues, the organization that wants to bring the oil and natural gas industry to North Carolina is urging people not to rush to judgement on what its local representative said is a safe outlet to secure the country’s future energy.
The North Carolina Petroleum Council (NCBCE) is the state office of the American Petroleum Institute (API), which, according to Executive Director David McGowan, is the nation’s oldest and largest national trade association.
The organization represents the API’s business interests in North Carolina, as well as its members who do business in the state.
More: As the debate over offshore drilling heats up, what’s at stake?
While the NCPC eventually hopes to open the opportunity for offshore drilling and refining of oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean, McGowan said that is at least eight to 10 years away. Concerned residents, he said, need to use that time to become informed on the subject at hand.
Although North Carolina Petroleum Council representatives said oil rigs off the North Carolina coast would take eight to 10 years minimum to start appearing, the decision of whether or not to allow them that opportunity will be made this year. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY BOEM)
Is seismic testing necessary?
“First and foremost, this is really two separate issues that we’re talking about here, and I think a lot of times it gets lost in the discussion,” McGowan said. “The first is the seismic surveying, the scientific research that’s necessary to understand what our resources are, where they are, and how much we think is there.”
McGowan said this is a critical first step in the process of making informed decisions about the issues surrounding offshore drilling.
One of the most contentious issues within the subject, is that of seismic testing. This sonar based mapping system shoots high-powered air blasts at the sea floor, then reads the echoed sound waves to locate oil and natural gas deposits. While the NCBPE believes there’s no harm to marine life, studies have linked these powerful blasts to marine mammal strandings in the past. Pictured: A seismic survey ship tows an “airgun array.” (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY PHOTO)
However, opponents say these seismic tests have negative impacts on marine life worldwide; and there is some science backing it up.
But, McGowan said people opposed to the industry’s actions need to take a step back and look at the facts presented by the industry before they criticize.
“In my opinion, and our opinion as an industry, the federal government, which is in charge of this process, the state government, which has a very limited yet important role in this process, and local governments and citizens, cannot have an informed debate and properly weigh the pros, and admittedly the potential impacts, without that seismic research,” McGowan said.
McGowan referred to a statement made by Dr. William Brown, the chief environmental officer for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the government organization that will ultimately be responsible for the final plan for Atlantic drilling. The statement indicates that marine species are unharmed by this type of testing.
It reads: “To date, there has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from air guns used in geological and geophysical (G&G) seismic activities adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities.
“This technology has been used for more than 30 years around the world. It is still used in U.S. waters off of the Gulf of Mexico with no known detrimental impact to marine animal populations or to commercial fishing.”
Over a nearly 30 year period in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the East Coast was heavily surveyed for hydrocarbon resources. According to David McGowan, over 60 wells were drilled during that time period, in areas that indicated the potential for these resources. Although not economically feasible at the time, McGowan said there is a need to revisit these sites with updated technology, and find out what exactly what natural resources are offshore. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY BOEM)
And while opponents might not appreciate this sort of statement, McGowan said oil exploration is not a new venture in the Atlantic.
Over a nearly 30-year period in the sixties, seventies, and eighties the East Coast was heavily surveyed for hydrocarbon resources. According to McGowan, over 60 wells were drilled during that time period, in areas that showed the potential for natural resources.
Drilling in these areas was deemed not economically feasible at the time. McGowan said there is a need to revisit these sites with updated technology to find out what exactly what resources are offshore.
“In order, again, for us all to make informed decisions, and have a constructive debate about the process, we need that updated data and the federal government needs that updated data to update their resource projections, which are ultimately used to value potential lease sales, royalty payments, revenue sharing, ect.,” he said.
Can the industry coexist with environmental responsibility?
Are the potential negative impacts of oil and gas exploration worth the risk? The industry has historically had risks, from dealing with the volatile nature of these resources, to mechanical failures and human error that can lead to disastrous oil spills.
The “Deepwater Horizon” oil spill was the largest in US history. Opponents to offshore drilling ask what would happen if a spill of that size occurred off the Atlantic Coast. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY NOAA)
However, according to McGowan, the industry’s track record is a fairly positive one, and one that is designed to coexist with the environment, as well as other coastal industries. That is true, he said, even in light of recent events like the “Macondo Incident,” aka the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. That spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and is recorded as the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
When asked about the Deepwater spill, and what a disaster of this scale could mean to the people of the east coast, McGowan said it’s “difficult to do the math equation until we have data from both sides.” He paraphrased a quote from the Oil Spill Safety Commission, which stated:
“Following the Macondo incident, and the after action briefings, industry best practices and regulations that have been adopted, offshore drilling is safer now than it has ever been.”
“There have been over 55,000 wells drilled in the Gulf of Mexico, and one catastrophic event is one too many,” McGowan said. “But, the industry safety record is impeccable, considering the challenges of weather conditions, operating conditions, and everything else the industry operates under.”
While that may be true, would people support this sort of energy industry, over “clean energy” sources like wind or solar power? According to McGowan, not only does the oil and gas industry have the potential to create tens of thousands of new jobs, it can also help propel other industries forward.
“If you look at places, even in the Gulf of Mexico, and granted, there was a catastrophic event there, but, the economies in the Gulf of Mexico were commercial fishing, recreational fishing, tourism, and the oil and gas industry, and they coexist side by side,” he said. “And not just coexist, they thrive.”
As an example, McGowan points to the Gulf town of Morgan City, La., where each year the “Shrimp and Petroleum Festival” is held to celebrate the two industries “heritage in the area, as well as “coexist, and complement one another to support the areas economy.”
“So, while it is foreign to us here on the east coast particularly, there are examples we can look to where that coexistence absolutely has occurred, continues to occur, and not only occurs but thrives,” he said.
Fear of the unknown
McGowan attributes much of the North Carolinian’s trepidation about offshore drilling to a fear of the unknown.
“Fear and emotion are easy to succumb to when you’re unfamiliar with what you’re experiencing,” he said.
And while he said he respects that, he believes it’s his job to communicate and inform the residents of the state so they have a “better, more informed perspective.” After that, he said, it’s up to the people to decide whats right for the Atlantic coast.
“They may still decide that they don’t think this is right for our state, or our region, and I understand that,” he said. “But, hopefully they’re basing that on a little bit more sound information rather than just their fears of the unknown.”
For more information, on the North Carolina Petroleum Council, visit its website at api.org.
For information regarding the new BOEM OCS five year plan, and to have your voice heard on the issue, visit boem.gov.
Get in touch with Reporter Cory Mannion: follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or send an email at email@example.com. http://portcitydaily.com/2017/08/10/meet-the-folks-who-want-to-bring-the-offshore-oil-and-gas-industry-to-north-carolina-nws/