WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama this morning announced an expansion of oil and gas exploration along the entire southern Atlantic coastline, including all of North Carolina.
"There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision, those who say we should not open any new areas to drilling," Obama said Wednesday.
But he described the decision as one of energy security, strengthening the economy over the short and long term.
The administration plan calls for seismic exploration in the mid- and south Atlantic to learn more about what oil and natural gas resources might exist. Lease sales could proceed from there, but not before 2012.
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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters he consulted with governors affected by the development and received more than 500,000 comments from the public on the administration’s plans for the Outer Continental Shelf.
"The fact of the matter is we know very little about the Atlantic because the information we have is 30 years old," Salazar told reporters today. "One of the things we owe to the American people is to make our decisions based on good information. Right now there is very little information on the Atlantic."
For years, North Carolina's leaders stood in opposition to offshore drilling. But they have wavered in recent years as the economy worsened and gas prices rose.
Obama said this morning he won't allow plans to hurt coastal environments.
"We’ll protect areas that are vital to tourism and the environment," Obama said.
But that doesn't necessarily soothe those concerned about North Carolina's coastline.
Frank Tursi, Cape Lookout Coastkeeper for the N.C. Coastal Federation, pointed out that the nearest large industrial area, Norfolk, Va., could be largely off-limits to oil and gas production.
That's because the Navy has a major footprint in the area and is reluctant to see more development that could interrupt its operations.
"So where’s the closest deep-water port?" Tursi asked. "Morehead City . . . We could be the staging area for that."
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a Winston-Salem Republican, said he hopes the administration will move quickly on delayed lease sales and denied permits.
"The President's announcement is a step, albeit a small one, towards addressing America’s energy needs," Burr said. "If resources off the coast of North Carolina can be produced responsibly, they should be part of the solution."
Salazar announced a year ago that the administration would explore a variety of alternative energy sources in the Outer Continental Shelf, including wind and wave energy. North Carolina has some of the best wind resources on the East coast.
This month, Duke Energy held a planning meeting to develop a pilot project of a handful of wind turbines in the Pamlico Sound between the mainland and Roanoke Island.