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•Offshore Drilling •Seismic Exploration •Wind Energy •Coal Ash Four hot-button political and environmental issues penned by some of the region’s finest environmental educators. Matt Collogan, a graduate from UNCW’s environmen-tal studies program, has worked for a decade as an environmental educator for New Hanover County Parks and Gardens Department. Originally from Silver Spring, Maryland, Matt has lived in North Carolina since 2002. Now self-employed as a farmer, he also sits on the Tidal Creek Cooperative Board of Directors. 37 OIL AND WATER Offshore Drilling By Ma t t Co l l o g a n Since 1940, over 50,000 oil and gas wells have been built in the Gulf of Mexico. Today, 27,000 wells are abandoned, some leaking crude oil and unmonitored, threatening wildlife, fisheries, public health and tourism. In North Carolina, where coastal conservation is tradition and where no offshore wells exist, the prospect of off-shore fossil fuel development is a growing possibility on a slippery slope – albeit not at the hands of coastal locals. The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) decides every five years where to allow lease permits for drilling off of the US coast. The next lease term runs 2017 through 2022, and offers portions of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) off of the North Carolina coast. North Carolina cannot issue lease permits for off-shore drilling in federal waters. But, North Carolina has authority to review proposed seismic testing and drilling applications for consistency with the state’s coastal management program. In April, the NC Division of Coastal Management approved two consistency submissions from Spectrum Geo Inc., a seismic data specialist, and GX Technologies, a provider of advanced seismic imaging solu-tions, a first step toward permitting for seismic surveying. Two other companies have submitted requests to NCDCM, but await a ruling. All four are based in Houston, although Spectrum’s entire board is Norwegian. Environmentalists ask: How did the federal government, Houston and Norway find themselves determining the fate of North Carolina’s coast? While initially encouraging drilling, BOEM is temporarily pro-tecting North Carolina from its own state administration, which is focused on fossil fuels. BOEM’s plan includes a 50-mile buffer zone along the coast where drilling is prohibited, while encouraging the development of renewable energy and fisheries. As chair of the OCS Governors Coalition, NC Governor Pat McCrory has been pushing to reduce or eliminate that buffer in order to allow drill-ing closer to land. He is correct in realizing 50 miles out, drilling would practically be on the slope of the OCS and would exclude possible reserves closer to shore. At 50 miles out, drilling is much more expensive and more difficult than closer to shore. The governor’s proposal would allow drilling 30 miles from Cape Hatteras, where the Gulf Stream and Labrador currents interact and could disperse any spilled oil over large areas, includ-ing The Point, a significant ecological location and fishing spot near Nags Head. BOEM has stated it would not redraw the leases to adjust the distances closer to shore for the 2017 plan because it would have to start the whole process over again. Oil and gas busi-nesses are looking for existing infrastructure and realize the only logical deepwater ports for onshore oil production are Charleston, SC, and Norfolk, Virginia — not the 600-acre state-owned site near Southport. No matter where the onshore infrastructure is located it will negatively impact valuable coastal real estate with pollution, traffic, pipelines and dredging equipment, and diminish local quality of life and coastal heritage. North Carolina is at a crossroads: fossil fuel dependence or renew-able energy freedom. The Lazard Energy Analysis reveals in the past five years the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for generating utility-scale energy from leading solar technolo-gies has plummeted 80 percent and the LCOE for land-based wind has plummeted 60 percent. Both solar and wind are cheaper than coal and, in a growing number of places, are more economical than natural gas. Opponents say spending billions developing a nascent offshore extrac-tion program that won’t have appre-ciable returns for another 25 years is irresponsible, especially when consid-ering how the polluting externalities of the drilling industry negatively affect existing coastal economies dependent on healthy environments. Local county governments like Duplin, Robeson and Pender are investing in solar farms that anchor jobs locally and provide cleaner, cheaper energy. Improving effi-ciency, building bike lanes (success-ful PV solar bike lanes now exist in the Netherlands), converting motor fleets to electric and diversifying the renewable energy portfolio are all actions available now, and all cleaner than offshore drilling. www.wrightsvillebeachmagazine.com WBM


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