This Is Not A Drill: The America-First Offshore Energy Strategy

Nick Krebs is a student in the Master of Coastal and Ocean Policy program at UNC Wilmington.  He graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in 2014, with a B.A. in Economics.  Having grown up on North Carolina's coast, Nick has always had an appreciation for the coastal people and their relationship with the coastal environment.  His research interests include coastal energy development, environmental economics and public opinions on environmental issues.

If you’re unfamiliar with the small towns, funny accents and beautiful landscapes of North Carolina’s coast, then it might not make sense at first. We want jobs, prosperity, freedom and national security, just like everyone else. We depend on gasoline for our cars - and our boats - and we use natural gas for electricity. Sixteen of the twenty coastal counties even voted for Trump in 2016. All things considered, maybe it is fair for you to wonder why anyone from coastal North Carolina would have a problem with the new offshore energy plan.

In the 1980s, North Carolina’s commercial fishing industry hit its peak and the tourism industry began to boom. Simultaneously, there was a national push for energy independence in the name of national security. However, the focus was on developing the domestic oil industry, which had an environmentally destructive reputation. So naturally, when Mobil Oil Corp proposed a plan to begin drilling for oil about 38 miles from Hatteras Island in 1989, North Carolinians spoke out in strong opposition. While the federal Coastal Zone Management Act does require that any activities in the federal waters off of a state’s coast must be consistent with that state’s Coastal Area Management Act, national security still takes precedence over the consistency requirement. Then, right on cue, the Exxon Valdez spill happened, changing the national attitude on drilling and leaving North Carolina’s ocean economy to continue growing.

Thirty years later, the ocean economy directly employs 12.9% of people on North Carolina’s coast and contributes billions of dollars to state GDP annually. While other administrations have since revisited the idea of offshore drilling, the practice was virtually banned outside of the Gulf of Mexico. North Carolina has also become a national leader in renewable energy development since the fight against Mobil Oil Corp. The coast has a strong military presence as well, with Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Air Force bases. Essentially, it is clear that North Carolinians appreciate jobs, a vibrant economy, energy development and the military - the very same goals mentioned in Trump’s America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.

So then what is the problem with Executive Order 13795?

At first glance, offshore drilling may appear to be in line with its stated goals. But the assumptions made in this executive order lack critical insights about North Carolina’s coast. Firstly, the policy claims that energy and minerals from federal lands and waters are important to a vibrant economy. However, without federal profit sharing programs, the resource’s origin has much less impact on the state’s economy than the environment’s ability to support the tourism and fishing industries. The policy also claims that American families will be benefited by reinvigorated manufacturing and job growth, which are byproducts of lower energy prices. In reality, studies show that if all federal offshore oil and gas reserves were open to drilling, the price of gas would fall just $0.03 per gallon by the year 2030. Along the same lines, the policy claims that domestic energy production is important to national security in the form of energy independence. While some experts claim that the idea of energy independence is a myth, North Carolina’s coast has the largest estimated reserves on the entire east coast. In fact, these reserves could support oil and natural gas needs for the entire United States. But only for 36 days. This is of course contrary to the policy’s claim that drilling would ensure energy security for “decades to come”. Lastly, the policy claims that offshore drilling will improve “military readiness”, because the Department of Defense is among the largest energy consumers in the United States. As it turns out, a 2015 report made it abundantly clear to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that the drilling in the Atlantic is largely incompatible with the Department of Defense’s mission. Among the justifications listed for this incompatibility is a negative impact on the military’s “combat readiness”.

North Carolina wants a great economy, more jobs, energy development and a strong military. In fact, we chose a path toward each of these goals long ago. This path requires a clean and healthy coast. The America-First Offshore Energy Strategy not only jeopardizes the ocean economy with a potential oil spill, it also fails to examine its own key economic, energy and military components. Alternatively, the nation would be better-served to implement a clean offshore energy strategy that is more compatible with local, long-term and military needs.


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