WILMINGTON, N.C. – Fossil fuel and wind power companies are focusing on America's East Coast as a coming energy hub and industry representatives said Thursday they want politicians to ease up regulatory restraints in return for the promise of jobs and tax revenues.
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Oil companies looking for new sources are blocked from West Coast drilling due to political opposition, while politicians in the Southeast are welcoming, said API offshore policy adviser Andy Radford.
The Democratic governors of California, Oregon and Washington this summer stressed to Interior Secretary Sally Jewel that they oppose drilling off their coasts. The federal agency is updating which federal waters would be open for companies to explore and drill for oil and gas starting in 2017. Drilling was not worth the risk of another disaster like the 1969 oil spill off Santa Barbara, California, the West Coast governors said.
"The political realities are that there's going to be no opportunities for drilling in that area in the near future," Radford said at an energy conference in Wilmington. "Here on the Atlantic coast, the reason for industry interest is because the elected officials in these states, it's bipartisan up and down the coast."
A coalition of governors along the Gulf Coast and Southeast who support offshore drilling is chaired by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory. McCrory said besides the prospect of good jobs and business profits, more states should contribute to building American energy independence from foreign imports by allowing drilling.
"We are hypocrites in North Carolina if we expect to get all our energy from somewhere else and just expect that our hands are clean in this whole thing," he said.
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American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said big increases in fossil fuel production in recent years already have lowered U.S. gasoline prices despite wars and instability in the Middle East. He wants favorable regulations, permission to drill on federal land, undersea seismic testing to find promising oil and gas deposits and the inclusion of underwater fields off the Southeast in the Interior Department's coming five-year offshore leasing plan.
"Will we invest out there? Won't we invest out there? How big is the resource? Today we don't know," Gerard said.
Outside the convention center, protesters demonstrated against the pollution risk of oil drilling. Comments by Gerard and McCrory inside were interrupted by protesters.
The petroleum industry's promise that it can operate alongside existing tourism and fishing industries is undercut by the continuing effects of the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, said Andrew Menaquale, an energy analyst for the conservation group Oceana in Washington, D.C.
"I think they should take a trip down to the Gulf Cost and talk to people who were employed in fishing, who were employed in tourism, and see how that oil spill is affecting them four-plus-years later," he said. "The fact of the matter is it only takes one accident to cost a lot of people jobs and billions of dollars in damages."
He thinks politicians should encourage offshore clusters of wind farms. Waters more than 10 miles off the North Carolina coast are projected to have among the country's highest potential for profitable wind energy generation. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management two months ago identified one ocean tract off Kitty Hawk and two others off Wilmington where wind turbines can be built.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio.