Washington, DC- Congressman G. K. Butterfield's apprehensions about drilling in the waters off North Carolina's coast are growing in light of concerns raised recently by the U.S. Navy.
"Offshore drilling not only poses a terrible risk for North Carolina's coastal communities, but it could also hinder our military's preparedness," Butterfield said.
Butterfield said he shares the concerns expressed in a letter from Donald R. Schregardus, the U.S. Navy Assistant Secretary for Installations and Environment, to the federal Minerals Management Service (MMS). The letter was written after a request by the MMS for comments regarding the Department of the Interior's draft proposed five-year Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2007-2012.
In the letter sent last month, Schregardus indicated that the Navy opposes oil and gas development off the coast of Virginia because of the many potential hazards associated with training conducted by the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine Corps.
"Training operations that occur in the proposed oil and gas use area include aircraft carrier operations, amphibious vehicle operations, gunnery training, and F/A-18, F-15, F-16 and F-22 guns firings," Schregardus wrote. "Any structures built in the water where these types of activities are conducted, particularly low-level gunnery practice and missile separation testing, would restrict where military air wings can fire their weapons, drive aircraft further away from the coast, increase fuel costs and wear and tear on the airframes, increase flight times enroute to training areas, and increase the risk to aircrews due to the increased distance from emergency recovery bases."
Butterfield said that he also has similar concerns about the problems offshore drilling could present for the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City. Butterfield said that offshore gas and oil operations could make readiness drills more dangerous and add to their workload.
The waters off North Carolina's coast are currently protected by a federal moratorium on east coast offshore drilling until 2012. Butterfield said that he opposes the proposals to open North Carolina and Virginia to offshore drilling, and that he favors continuing the moratorium.
Butterfield said that one of his greatest concerns with offshore drilling is the potential damage that could be done to the coast in the event of an accident - even an accident that occurred off the shore of a neighboring state.
"Even a small accident near our coast could potentially turn into a huge and lengthy disaster for North Carolina," Butterfield said. "Our coastal communities are just too vital to our economy and character to be placed at risk."
Last year, tourists spent $14.2 billion in North Carolina, providing jobs for more than 185,000 people. In addition, the tourism industry generated a total of more than $2.3 billion in tax revenues, including $1.1 billion in federal taxes.