The drama of drilling

Published 7:36 pm Thursday, January 25, 2018


Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recently announced a plan to allow offshore oil drilling off the coasts of the U.S. over the next five years. Immediately, there was outcry from elected officials in many states, regardless of political leanings. The reason: tourists don’t want to pay top dollar for a hotel room or vacation house rental with a view of the ocean and oil rigs.

Officials are rightly concerned the tourism industry could be greatly affected by the new view, and disastrously affected if an oil spill occurred. Many can recall the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The ultimate cost of the spill is unknowable, but in Louisiana alone, it’s estimated that the state lost $153 million in tourism dollars from 2010 to 2013; a 2016 report from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management states the total commercial impact in the Gulf from the spill was nearly $1 billion. That’s a lot of money.

One of the things for which North Carolinians pride themselves is the beauty of the state, from the mountains to the sea, and the sea certainly draws many tourism dollars. While visitors spent an overall $22.9 billion in North Carolina in 2016, Dare County pulled in more than $1 billion of it. Saltwater recreational fishing in North Carolina is worth $2 billion in sales and 18,000 jobs, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It’s no wonder that North Carolina’s elected officials are speaking out against offshore drilling. There’s too much money and too many jobs at stake.

Perhaps not for Florida, however. Zinke, after meeting with Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott, announced on Jan. 9 that Florida would be “taken off the table” for offshore drilling, which again caused an outcry: “If they can be exempt, why can’t we?” The following week, Bureau of ocean Energy Management Director Walter Cruickshank said Florida was still “on the table” for offshore drilling.

It remains unclear whether Florida is, indeed, on the table or whether North Carolina will end up embroiled in a lawsuit. N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper has promised to sue the federal government if North Carolina remains on this particular table, citing that if heavy reliance on tourism is a good enough reason to exempt Florida, then it should be good enough reason to exempt North Carolina.

What is clear, however, is if states’ coastlines are going to be opened up for offshore drilling, then the federal government should not play favorites, especially if partisan politics are involved.