More than two-thirds of North Carolina residents support offshore drilling for oil and gas, according to an Elon University poll released yesterday. But given the misleading claims about drilling made recently by some of the state's elected officials, we suspect the strong public support for the practice stems in part from a lack of understanding about its serious environmental perils.

The latest politician to offer misleading information on drilling's impact was U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.). Speaking last week in the North Carolina port city of Wilmington, Dole -- who's facing a tough re-election challenge from Democratic state Sen. Kay Hagan -- told reporters:

I think that we should drill offshore. The technology has improved enormously. ... During Hurricane Katrina with all those rigs there was no major, significant spill during that unbelievable hurricane.

That's simply not true.

As we've reported before, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita together caused 124 offshore spills that dumped a total of 743,700 gallons of pollution into the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, onshore spills from various sources including the pipelines, tanks and refineries associated with offshore drilling totaled 9 million gallons -- not much less than the the 10.8 million gallons released in the undeniably major Exxon Valdez disaster.

In Katrina's wake, a single spill of 1 million gallons from the Murphy Oil refinery in Chalmette, La. spread over one square mile and contaminated some 1,700 homes -- one of the worst residential oil spills in U.S. history.

How in the world can anyone claim these spills were not "major" or "significant"?

The American people face a critical decision over whether to expand offshore drilling along ecologically vulnerable coastlines. This decision must be based on facts -- not the nonsense being pushed by Dole and other politicians who refuse to acknowledge drilling's serious environmental risks.

For more information about oil industry pollution in the wake of the 2005 Gulf storms, see the Sierra Club fact sheet titled "The Truth About Oils Spills and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita" (pdf).