CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Obama administration on Friday opened the Eastern Seaboard to offshore energy exploration, causing concern in the Carolinas about the effect on sea creatures and tourism but also raising the prospect of new jobs and revenue.
The administration announced sonic cannon that generate sound waves 100 times louder than a jet engine can be used to locate energy deposits beneath the ocean floor.
Katie Zimmerman of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League warned the devices also can deafen right whales.
“Once they can’t hear — and that’s the risk that comes with seismic testing — they are pretty much done for,” she said. “Obviously we have a North Atlantic right whale population that breeds off the coast of South Carolina.”
She added that spills and visual pollution could affect the state’s $18 billion tourism industry.
“Even if there were oil out there, do we really want that? Do we really want to see these offshore rigs set up? Do we really want our tourism industry to suffer?” she asked.
But in North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory, who is the chairman of the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, applauded the development.
“We can finally begin to assess the amount of oil or gas that could be beneath the ocean floor after decades of waiting on the sidelines,” the Republican governor said in a statement. “This is an important step in the right direction toward more jobs for North Carolina and our country, as well as greater energy independence for our nation.”
The town of Carolina Beach, North Carolina, earlier this year passed a resolution opposing the use of sonic cannon.
“I think it was the sense of council that we weren’t supportive of the methods they were proposing,” said Councilman Steve Shuttleworth. “We weren’t totally closing the door on seismic testing.”
Shuttleworth said town residents are “across the board on the political spectrum” and divided on offshore energy. He said it’s not clear what economic benefit the community may derive and it’s also unclear what environmental threats drilling could pose.
“Everyone is looking for solutions to the energy problems we have and the rising costs. We’re just not sure if we’re willing to sacrifice the environment locally,” he said.
But South Carolina state Sen. Paul Campbell favors looking for natural gas offshore and feels it can be done safely. If it is found, studies have shown the industry could create 5,000 jobs. In North Carolina, offshore drilling, according to one estimate, could mean 35,000 new jobs and $4 billion in new tax revenue through 2030.
The Republican lawmaker, who earlier chaired a legislative committee that looked into offshore energy, said that after talking to geologists, he’s convinced there is natural gas about 70 miles offshore.
“I honestly feel we can go offshore and harvest the energy,” he said. “I think we’re kind of foolish not to. We’re becoming more energy independent in this country with fracking and everything else. I would love to see us become totally energy independent.”
Two years ago the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held public hearings in both states on offshore exploration. Most of those speaking were in favor of finding out how much gas and oil there is off the coast.