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Panel suggests more research on N.C. offshore drilling

Despite a fatal explosion on an offshore drilling platform that has led to oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the majority of North Carolina residents continue to favor drilling for oil and gas off the state's coast, according to a poll released Monday.

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BEAUFORT, N.C. — A legislative subcommittee tasked with studying offshore drilling along North Carolina's coast told state officials Wednesday that more research is needed.

Doug Rader, co-chairman of the Legislative Research Commission Advisory Subcommittee on Offshore Energy Exploration and chief oceans scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, told the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission that it's unclear where or even how much oil or natural gas might be off the state's shoreline.

Current estimates are nearly 30 years old and based on outdated research techniques, he said.

Several oil companies want to explore the possibility after President George W. Bush lifted a moratorium in 2008 and President Barack Obama announced he was opening much of the East Coast to energy exploration.

"It's new territory for us here, because the East Coast has been under moratorium for the last 26 years," said Mike Lopazanksi, coast and oceans policy advisor for the Division of Coastal Management.

The benefits of drilling are revenue and jobs for the state. Proponents have also argued that it would help maintain the cost of gasoline and limit foreign dependency.

The risks include oil spills like the one currently in the Gulf of Mexico.

A week after the subcommittee finished its report, the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers and causing a growing environmental hazard as oil continues to leak from an undersea wellhead.

Rader said that as a result of the spill, many of the policies the subcommittee identified in the report are in the process of changing.

State officials did emphasize that public hearings would be held before any energy exploration were to begin.

An Elon University poll last month found that 63 percent of those surveyed support oil and gas drilling of the state coast, despite the Gulf explosion.


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