Local Politics

Offshore oil and water don't mix for some Currituck voters

Posted October 9, 2012 5:34 p.m. EDT
Updated October 9, 2012 6:40 p.m. EDT

— Gas prices are a tried and true election topic, and rising rates at the pump have prompted both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney to push for oil and gas exploration off North Carolina's coast.

Such politics draw a wary eye from Currituck County residents, many of whom depend on tourism for their livelihoods.

"(The beach) is everything, and it needs to stay clean and protected," said Chip Workman, owner of the Winks of Corolla convenience store.

Drilling for oil off the coast is just too risky, Workman says.

"I can see where it would provide jobs, which is much needed, but still, the environmental impact is greater, in my opinion, than the benefit of it," he said.

Construction worker Randy Horst says offshore oil would lubricate the coastal economy when tourism is down.

"This place needs another source of income," Horst said. "The tourist trade, it's making us money, but with the economy down, it ain't making like it used to be."

He added that the oil is there for the taking, so why not take it.

"If we don't use it," he said, raising his hand above his eyes, "we're going to be paying up to here for something that's right there."

Steven Garrett, owner of the Corolla Cantina, isn't sure what exactly lies under the Atlantic Ocean offshore, but he says he's willing to explore.

"Geologists will get out there from the oil companies, and they'll be able to find what really is out there," Garrett said. "It'll be something they can tap into in the future."

Experts say no oil or gas could be produced from off the state coastline for at least a decade.

Some of Garrett's neighbors don't even want to look for fear of opening Pandora's box. If there's a spill or some other accident, they say, it would be like a rainy day at the beach – every day.

"It could happen. It could definitely happen, which is scary," said Greta Geis, who leads Jeep rides for Corolla Outback Wild Horse Tours.

"I assume that we would see large towers of metal out there, with a lot more ships than we're seeing now," Geis said. "You have to look at all aspects of it. You can't just look at it, like, 'OK, that's going to eliminate foreign fuels.' You have to look at it as it's also going to interfere with other people's lives."

Currituck County is prized for its wide, wind-swept beaches, which is why Workman sees wind energy production as more promising for the region than oil drilling.

"I think wind is just free. There's plenty of it," he said.