N.C. Beach Season Opens——to Oil?
After hundreds of visitors enjoy the Memorial Day weekend on North Carolina’s beaches, the N.C. House will vote on whether to request that the federal government open its coast to the risk of oil spills from offshore drilling under the same practices that led to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and oiled 641 miles of Gulf Coast over 87 days. After the BP disaster in the Gulf, the federal government deferred any drilling in the Atlantic until 2017 at the earliest. “Drill Bill” S709 moved to the N.C. House for consideration after the N.C. senate passed it by a vote of 38 to 12 on May 10, 2011.
“Whether North Carolina’s beaches will be known for beach balls or tar balls may depend on how state representatives vote after Memorial Day,” said Derb Carter, director, Carolinas Office, Southern Environmental Law Center. “As tourist season kicks off, state politicians plan to risk oiling North Carolina’s coast—and its multi-billion dollar tourism industry—for oil companies to drill less than a three-months supply of oil.”
Just hours before state senators introduced the Drill Bill on the one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility reported that more than a half million individuals and businesses had filed claims for economic losses caused by the oil spill.
North Carolina’s beaches are among its most famous attractions for the state’s travel and tourism industry which directly employs 185,500 people in North Carolina. In 2010, 36.8 million visitors to North Carolina spent a record $17 billion and visitor spending directly generated a total of more than $1.5 billion in state and local tax revenues according to a study by the U.S. Travel Association. State tax revenue totaled more than $947 million and local tax revenues were $546 million as a direct result of visitor spending. The Outer Banks alone usually attract an estimated 7 million visitors each year.
Last year’s oil spill took a heavy toll on tourism along the Gulf Coast beaches. According to the convention and visitors bureau, one Florida county, which includes Pensacola and Perdido Key, lost $10.4 million in revenue from June through August after the oil spill. Two coastal counties in neighboring Alabama reported that lodging revenue dropped by almost half during peak summer months after the oil spill compared to the previous year. Even a year after the oil spill, a local tourist official reported that the number of rental reservations were still down at least 25 percent on Alabama’s Dauphin Island.
The BP spill oiled 641 miles of Gulf Coast, the approximate length of all the beaches of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina combined. (see graphic at https://www.southernenvironment.org/images/maps/offshore_drilling/beaches_length_map_72dpi.jpg).
Despite political assertions, the Energy Information Administration recently projected that if the United States tripled offshore oil production, there would be no price impact at all until 2020 and only 3 cents to 5 cents a gallon in 2030. The Mid- and South Atlantic coasts combined hold the equivalent of just about three months supply of oil (1.91 billion barrels) at current rates of U.S. consumption, according to the best available assessments.
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