Off base on offshore drilling

In the current debate here in North Carolina about exploring the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf for potential oil and gas drilling, the common arguments swirl around emotion (fear of oil spill) and economics (jobs, tax revenue, etc.).

Environmental activists promote scares, such as a recent Wilmington StarNews “Perspectives” piece by Liz Kazal, an advocate with Environment North Carolina ( She writes: “(Visitors) come (to N.C. coasts) to see wild horses, the place where the Wright Brothers first took flight, or just to relax and play in the surf with their family. This is what we stand to lose if we allow drilling off our coasts.”

This absurd prediction doesn’t stand a reality test. Even the much press-covered BP Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico five years ago didn’t wipe out tourism and fishing along the coast—although Ms. Kazal, a Gulf Coast native, claims that the only reason people now visit those areas is for cleanup jobs. She contradicts her own words by saying that her parents still live there in a community that “relies of tourism and a thriving fishing industry.”

Supporter’s views of offshore drilling, of course, make a 180-degree turn. David McGowan, executive director of the N. C. Petroleum Council, in another StarNews “Perspective” article predicts an “economic boon—generating 55,000 jobs and $4 billion in economic growth in North Carolina alone including $600 million in manufacturing spending per year”—mention of manufacturing sends environmentalists into irrational thinking and hysterical fits of anger.

Industry people (yes, Ms. Kazal, they are humans) also point out that they and government bureaucrats have “devoted incredible effort” to improve safety since the BP accident. In addition, while the environmental activists live in a static world assuming nothing should change, industry engineers continue making great progress not only with safer operations but with technical efficiencies to provide us better and less expensive products.

And, then, an aspect of ocean drilling occurs to me that I’ve not heard discussed: the appeal of man’s ingenuity to create functional and aesthetic forms.

What about the engineering marvel of a galactic oceanic space station—something akin to a visual in Star Wars? That’s what I see in a picture of a massive drill rig sitting on the surface of the ocean. These platforms are engineering marvels. Just the idea of construction boggles the average mind, but moving and securing these small cities in deep water seems unfathomable.

The drill towers above the platform enclosed in a massive metal frame; all manner of mechanical devices operate on the platform. Control rooms, generators, housing facilities and a helicopter pad are integral to the structure. Huge cranes lift equipment aboard. Ships can dock at the platform. These platforms can serve as navigational aid to shipping. They create habitat that attracts fish and other marine life.

Wouldn’t these magnificent structures attract tourists?  At night they would glow in the dark. They would add interest to the monotony of the ocean. Tour boats would surely be attracted to these rigs for photo and educational opportunities. Fishing boat captains would find them appealing and productive for their customers. An entirely new marine industry could be born that would serve not only our critical need for energy, but our curiosity and excitement about the wonders created by our people working in an American industry to improve our lives.

This is the positive view I see associated with the people exploring and extracting precious natural resources for our benefit. Environmentalist’s views reflect only static negativity; all they offer is fear, obstructionism and anger. They are selfish, narrow-minded people that we cannot afford to let influence government policy. And they are wildly off base on offshore drilling.


About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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