Mr. President, since 1993 a moratorium has been in place on oil and gas exploration, off the coast of North Carolina, thus protecting vital coastal areas from drilling. This moratorium has provided a much-needed boost to our coastal economy and my entire state. Each year, thousands of families flock to North Carolina beaches to enjoy the sun, dip in the cool waters, and spend time with family and friends. Visitors provide much needed tourism dollars that create and sustain jobs.
This moratorium has worked. And only two years ago, I helped lead the successful effort to stop an attempt to lift the moratorium on oil and gas exploration off the coast of North Carolina and many other states. And yet here we are once again, confronting the same proposal to undermine the moratorium and open new areas of the Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas development.
I am proud to join a bipartisan group of my colleagues in offering an amendment to strike a provision in the energy bill that exposes currently restricted, environmentally sensitive coastal areas to oil and gas exploration. I especially want to thank my friend and colleague, Senator Martinez, for his true leadership on this issue in his first year in the Senate.
There is no question that now, more than ever, we must work to end our dependence on foreign oil – but we cannot do so by ignoring the wishes and economic needs of the majority of the people of North Carolina, and many other coastal states, who oppose this exploration.
Exploring off our coast would endanger North Carolina’s booming tourism industry, a true economic engine of my state. According to the North Carolina Department of Commerce, tourism is one of North Carolina’s largest industries, supporting nearly 183,000 jobs. And tourism remains strong, despite declines in other important North Carolina industries in my state such as textiles, furniture manufacturing, and fiber optics. While nationwide tourism volume increased by less than one percent after the tragedy of 9/11, North Carolina saw a 3 percent increase in its visitors – a real testament to the draw of our coastal areas.
Last year, some 49 million visitors traveled to North Carolina, making it the 8th most popular state tourist destination in the country! Tourists spent $13.2 billion dollars across the state, generating more than $1.1 billion in federal revenue and over $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenue.
We’ve been told not to worry, that all they’re talking about is an inventory. But there are two problems with this argument. The experts tell us that inventorying itself will damage these environmentally sensitive areas. And why would we inventory an area we don’t plan to later drill?
The proposed inventory would be harmful to marine habitat and the fishing industry because it requires seismic surveys involving repetitive explosions in the water that send loud acoustic pulses through the water and into the seafloor. Scientists are concerned that these sounds kill fish and disturb whales, causing whales to swim onto beaches and die.
Advocates for an inventory label it solely as information gathering – but we already know where resources are located along our coasts from data gathered by the Department of Interior. Why then should our state be asked to risk environmental damage to our coastal areas for resources that are under moratoria and not even accessible for development? The potential physical price of exploration and subsequent drilling – polluted beaches, disrupted marine ecosystems, lost tourism – speaks to the heart of the issue. Any exploration off our coast is bad for our tourism industry and bad for North Carolina.
As an editorial in the Charlotte Observer on March 31st of this year explains, “A drilling accident threatens everything North Carolinians hold dear about the coast – the beaches, the ocean water, the fin fish and shellfish, the pelicans and pipers, the marsh grass and live oaks. Allowing drilling off the coast of the Carolinas – in an area of the Atlantic that has some of the roughest weather in the world – is foolish.”
I agree it would be foolish indeed. It’s detrimental to those who live, work, and visit our coastal communities, and therefore to my entire state. Let me repeat: The majority of folks in North Carolina are opposed, and that is why I am again proud to be a strong voice for my state in fighting any effort to open up the Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas exploration.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.