NC at Center of Energy Crisis

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 23, 2006

R-C News-Herald Editorial

By now most Americans have felt the strain on their wallets and purses trying to compensate for the rising cost of fuel. Over the past five years the cost of a gallon of gasoline has increased by approximately $1.60 per gallon, an increase of more than 110 percent.

During the same time period we have also seen a 300 percent increase in the cost of natural gas.

The White House recently made news when President George W. Bush publicly outlined new energy proposals aimed at reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil sources.

Currently over 60 percent of the crude oil used in American refineries is produced outside of the United States.

At the crux of the U.S. effort to lower energy costs for it’s citizens is the debate over whether or not more exploration for local sources of oil and natural gas should be allowed off of U.S. coasts.

Advocates of offshore drilling point to U.S. reliance on foreign energy sources as the cause of record high fuel prices.

Although it would seem to be a natural conclusion that the United States would explore any and all alternative energy sources, the concept of drilling for natural gas off of U.S. coastlines has had opposition for decades.

Since 1993 there has been a congressional moratorium that prohibits exploration for oil and natural gas off the coast of North Carolina.

Senator Elizabeth Dole, who has spearheaded the effort by lawmakers to keep companies both foreign and domestic from drilling off the coast of North Carolina, is concerned that the adverse effect on tourism and the landscape do not make domestic exploration a viable option.

Addressing Congress on Capitol Hill last year Dole said, &uot;Visitors to the North Carolina coastline provide much needed tourism dollars and tax revenue.&uot;

While Dole is a Republican, the debate over whether or not to allow offshore drilling is not split down party lines but rather down the seam that divides &uot;big business&uot; from environmentalists.

Florida, South Carolina and Virginia are all states that have recently found themselves embroiled in this debate.

A representative of Nucor Steel, a company that supports efforts to research alternative energy sources, was in attendance at the Hertford County Board of Commissioners meeting this past Monday attempting to rally support from local officials to push for energy research reform.

Bob Johns, who works in the Office of Government Affairs for Nucor’s corporate office, explained that manufacturers like themselves generate a lot of electricity. Natural gas is one of the resources that allow large manufacturers like Nucor to operate.

&uot;Any company that uses a heat treatment process whether it is in cement, or fertilizer processing or in a recycling environment like ours is going to be a large consumer of natural gas. It is a moot point to restrict domestic companies from offshore exploration when foreign nations are doing just that in close proximity to our coastlines.&uot; Johns said

Two weeks ago the NRK web site reported that the nation of Cuba announced they were intent on signing contracts with oil companies in Norway, India and Spain to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

This assertion was a slap in the face for U.S. companies bound by the congressional moratorium, particularly because the Cuban contingency will be drilling only 75 miles off the U.S. coastline.

Johns continued, &uot;We want to see intelligent research being done, so that foreign companies are not able to leverage American consumers and hold them hostage to rising prices.&uot;

Dole points to the fact that tourism generates 13 billion dollars in revenue to the state every year and accounts for over 180,000 jobs. In Dole’s opinion, offshore exploration would blight the landscape, thereby making the North Carolina coastline unattractive to tourists.

As the debate wages on, two things are certain. Firstly, a decision on whether or not to extend or overturn the moratorium will not come any time soon as both sides of the argument appear to have ample firepower to affect legislation.

Secondly, until someone invents a perpetual power source that runs off air or water, consumers will continue to be the losers in this debate.