Cover Story: Future of Offshore Drilling

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Is offshore drilling dead in the water?  North Carolina's governor vetoes a plan to drill for natural gas off the Carolina coast.

Gov. Bev Perdue has vetoed a record 15 pieces of legislation this year.  Thursday alone, Perdue put the veto stamp on four proposed laws.

To put that in perspective, her predecessor, former governor Mike Easley, had eight vetoes in eight years.

One of these latest vetoes is a big one.

Perdue shot down a plan to open our coastal waters to offshore drilling.

Some say the governor is flip-flopping - going back on a promise to support energy independence.

Others say the GOP plan was a bad idea from the start.  They introduced the bill earlier this year on the one-year anniversary of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why did the governor say she vetoed the bill?  She says the bill infringed on her constitutional powers.

Her opponents say she caved into special interests.  What's really going on here?

"This is probably one of the most devastating vetoes that she has actually provided out of her 15."

That's Bob Rucho, state senator from Mecklenburg county - speaking of the veto Gov. Perdue stamped on his bill which would have advanced offshore energy drilling.

The bill would have directed the governor to enter into a pact with the governors of Virginia and South Carolina to urge President Obama to open up the East Coast to explore for natural gas 40 miles off shore.

Right now the White House has banned it until at least 2018, although the president is said to be softening that position.

North Carolina has 64 million federal offshore acres, which is the most on the East Coast and the fourth largest acreage in the country.

Geologists believe it's limited on oil but rich in natural gas.  Scientists say there's enough to make it economically viable.  They believe there's enough to last 20-to-30 years.

Perdue says she is committed to developing energy jobs and energy independence but the bill Republican lawmakers sent to her infringed on the powers of her office.

"She just proved her.. well she waffled," says Sen. Rucho.  "She proved what she really believes in.  And she responded to the special interest groups who came out and told her in thousands of e-mails don't you dare do this cause we'll remember you on Election Day."

The issue is a political hot potato for Perdue and others.

People concerned about drilling are vocal.

Over the weekend they held hands across the sand at sites along the east coast.

Travel and tourism generates $17 billion for the North Carolina economy.  And fisheries adds another $77 million.

Tampering with resources so valuable (who can forgot the Gulf) doesn't make sense to many.

"Every time a serious look has been taken at this the decision has been that the state's best interest is protecting the beaches, protecting the tourism industry," says Derb Carter with Southern Environmental Law Center in Raleigh.

On the other side is this:  gas that's gone sky high.  It's three-something now but it's been to four and back several times over the last several years.

Weaning ourselves off oil and onto other energy like natural gas, supporters say is something we need to do.

While she vetoed the bill Gov. Perdue issued two executive orders:  One that would study generating wind energy along the coast.

A second executive order looks into the prospects of retrieving natural gas from shale, a controversial practice known as fracking.

Offshore drilling is not dead in the water.

The bill passed the North Carolina Senate with enough votes to override the governor's veto.  The House needs four more votes for a supermajority.

Lawmakers will go back to Raleigh for a special session in about three weeks.

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