State News

Legislative panel to study offshore drilling

Posted November 20, 2008 2:02 p.m. EST
Updated November 20, 2008 7:48 p.m. EST

— North Carolina legislative leaders will form a committee to study whether drilling for oil and natural gas is feasible off the coast.

Senate leader Marc Basnight said Thursday he remains opposed to drilling to explore for energy reserves.

But Basnight, a powerful Democrat from coastal Dare County, and House Speaker Joe Hackney have agreed to create a legislative panel to look at environmental concerns and what the state can do proactively on the matter.

"We should be on a fact-finding mission, one that will provide the kind of information that is now lacking," Basnight said. "When you build refineries, what do they look like? What do they do to the air and water? How many people do they employ at what cost?"

Although gas is now selling for less than $2 a gallon across the state, he said the potential impact of drilling deserves serious review.

He said he expects the drilling study to cost about a $100,000.

Congress has allowed a moratorium on offshore drilling to expire. The federal government has since started taking public comment on drilling off Virginia's coast.

Governor-elect Beverly Perdue has been opposed to drilling, but her campaign said she would be open to the idea if a team of scientists said it was safe.

Linda Daves, chairwoman of the state Republican Party, said the study would be a waste of money since Basnight already is against offshore drilling.

"The people of North Carolina overwhelmingly support offshore drilling as one means among many to modernize our energy economy and move us toward a stronger, more secure future," Daves said in a statement. "What they don't support is politicians wasting their money to try to take options off the table as families struggle to pay the bills."

Driver Brian Whitacre said he welcomes the legislative study and said he hopes it opens the door for more energy options.

"I hope it pushes it to where we drill a little bit more off coast or in Alaska and keep it in just our economy," said Whitacre, a student at North Carolina State University.

The study comes at the same time University of North Carolina researchers are looking at the viability of harnessing wind power on the coast.