NC governor-elect vows immediate action to begin drilling off Atlantic coast

The Southeast could soon be reaping the benefits and costs of offshore drilling for oil and gas if North Carolina Gov.-elect Pat McCrory (R) has his way.

Speaking this afternoon at the N.C. Bankers Association's 2013 Economic Forecast Forum, McCrory laid out his policy priorities around economic development for the state. Offshore drilling for natural gas and oil was among the top items on his to-do list.

"Our state has fallen behind in implementing energy policy," said McCrory, a former employee of Duke Energy who has been a vocal champion of both offshore and onshore drilling for fossil fuels. His campaign manager was Russell Peck, who previously served as director of external affairs for America's Natural Gas Alliance, an industry lobby group.

McCrory vowed to take "immediate action" to form a coalition with South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia and start negotiating with the federal government to begin drilling offshore first for natural gas, and then possibly for oil.

"We ought to contribute to the energy independence of our country and no longer stand on the sidelines," he said.

McCrory also said he wants to promote inland exploration for natural gas. The North Carolina legislature legalized fracking last year, and the state's Mining and Energy Commission is currently in the process of crafting regulations for the controversial drilling practice, which has been linked to toxic air and water pollution.

"The downside of that is that we started late, and gas prices have gone low," McCrory said. "It's a tough, competitive market, but the longer we sit on the sidelines the more difficult it will be for the state."

The last time North Carolina seriously considered offshore drilling was in 1990, when the state blocked an effort by what was then known as Mobil Oil -- now Exxon Mobil -- to drill off the Outer Banks.

The Obama administration has taken a cautious approach to opening up the Atlantic to drilling activity -- particularly in the wake of the 2010 BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which caused billions of dollars in economic and environmental damages to Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states.

This year, the administration is set to undertake a review to decide whether to allow energy companies to conduct seismic testing in order to evaluate the potential of offshore oil and gas reserves in the Atlantic.

While McCrory and other offshore drilling advocates emphasize the potential for jobs and lease revenues, those benefits are pitted against the potential damage the inevitable spills associated with offshore oil and gas drilling will cause to the state's critically important coastal tourism and fishing industries.

In addition, as the Louisiana experience illustrates, the industrial infrastructure associated with offshore drilling exacerbates coastal land loss -- a major concern for storm-vulnerable North Carolina and Virginia, which are in a hotspot for accelerated sea-level rise.

An estimated 40 to 60 percent of Louisiana's coastal land loss -- the worst in the nation -- is due to energy industry activity, in particular the cutting of canals and installation of pipelines by drilling companies.