More than 50 percent of voters in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District believe that offshore drilling is too risky, according to a poll commissioned by the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce and two environmental groups.
The poll is an attempt to raise the issue of offshore drilling among voters and candidates in the special 3rd Congressional District election to fill the seat left vacant after the death of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones earlier this year.
“What we are hoping is to send a message to those candidates that the candidate we would like to see is a candidate that supports our opposition to offshore drilling,” said Karen Brown, president and chief executive officer of the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce. “The current administration seems to think it is a good idea. I don’t know if they have all their facts and figures together.
“We are certainly hoping whether (the candidate) is Democrat or Republican (they) can see our side of it and side with our coastline,” Brown said.
The chamber partnered with Environment North Carolina and NRDC Action Fund to sponsor the survey undertaken May 18-19. Along with measuring voter concern about offshore oil drilling, the survey also gauged interest in offshore wind development and concerns about climate change.
“Congress Walter Jones was a strong advocate for protecting our coast against the dangers of offshore drilling and seismic testing,” said Drew Ball, director of Environment North Carolina. “Since he sadly passed we are curious how people felt about one of the issues that defined his legacy.”
Strategic Partners Solutions, a Raleigh-based firm, surveyed 400 likely general election voters, according to a news release. About 25 percent of individuals surveyed were in cellphone-only households.
When asked if allowing off-shore drilling would help eastern North Carolina’s economy or if was too risky and a threat to coastal communities, 52.8 percent said it was too risky, 39.3 percent said it would help the economy and 8 percent said they didn’t know or wouldn’t answer the question, Ball said.
There also was a significant difference in the enthusiasm between those favoring and opposing offshore drilling and wind. The survey revealed 38.8 percent of respondents strongly oppose any offshore drilling while 24 percent strongly supported it.
The Outer Banks chamber has opposed offshore drilling since 1996, Brown said. As a member of the Business Alliance to Protect the the Coast, the chamber is working with other organizations from Florida to Maine to lobby to stop offshore drilling.
“It would have terrible impacts on our coastline from a lot of perspectives,” Brown said. “We would take a lot of the risks and, we like to say, get none of the rewards. We wouldn’t be creating any jobs or the jobs would be in Virginia.”
The Labrador Current and Gulf Stream both flow along the East Coast, Brown said, so even if oil rigs aren’t located directly off North Carolina’s shorelines, the state’s coastal areas will likely be affected. Dare County tourism is the state’s fourth largest in revenues, she said, and damaging the coast will harm both the economies of the state and county.
The Outer Banks chamber represents 950 businesses and organizations that employ 3,000 people in Dare and Currituck counties and Ocracoke Island.
The poll results were released one week before the July 9 second primary to select the Republican candidate to run in the 3rd Congressional District special election.
Dr. Joan Perry, a Kinston pediatrician, said she opposes offshore drilling.
“The amount of oil available is too small to influence the global market but would affect the tourism industry that’s so vital to our coastal families,” Perry said. “The expansion of natural gas is a more promising venture for growing the nation’s energy independence.”
State. Rep. Greg Murphy, a Greenville urologist and surgeon also running for the nomination, did not answer the questions after several requests to him and his campaign.
Allen Thomas, the Democratic candidate for the seat, he opposes drilling for oil and gas off the state’s coast.
“The residents and business leaders in our community have made themselves clear on this issue: our coastal economy, which employs thousands and earns billions annually, is too important to put at such a big risk,” Thomas said. “This is a truly nonpartisan issue with support from both sides, from our fishermen to our conservationists; even the Trump administration has halted plans to explore here.”
In January of 2018, the Trump Administration, through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released a plan that would open up more than 90 percent of the nation’s coastal waters to drilling, Ball said. The plan has been halted after the administration said it would take time to figure out how to handle ongoing court cases related to the drilling plans.
“There are also ongoing bipartisan efforts in Congress to limit or block efforts to drill in many federal waters,” Ball said. “Many of these fights are happening through the budgeting and appropriations processes.”
Seismic testing to determine where oil reserves might be also are on hold as the bureau decides if it is going to lease permits for seismic testing off the state’s coast to the companies who have applied for them.
“In short, the coast is not clear,” Ball said.
The survey also found there was a 35.3 percent different between those favoring offshore wind farms and those against them. Brown said the chamber supports wind energy.
“It doesn’t have the inherent risks that offshore drilling has,” she said. “It a cleaner emergency and there are some benefits to our fishing community.” The towers create reef-like environments that draw fish.
Thomas said he believes wind energy development presents a chance to create “well-paying, sustainable” jobs for the region. He’ll support it as long as it doesn’t interfere with military operations.
“It is a growing global market with plenty of room for American innovation,” he said. “Investment in wind infrastructure would reduce our reliance on foreign energy without the overwhelming risk to our existing industries that drilling poses.”
Perry said she is concerned about the effect wind turbines may have on the military and wouldn’t support the industry’s expansion without military approval.
The survey also found that 62 percent of all voters said that global warming is a serious problem compared to 36.8 percent who said it is not.
Perry said while it appears global warming is taking place, its cause is not clear.
“The nation should incentivize clean energy investments by the private sector,” she said. “American innovation can solve this problem, but not if the federal government increases its regulations and taxation, which will only drive industry to other countries.”
Perry cited Environmental Protection Agency data that showed the United States in 2017 had its lowest carbon emissions in 25 years. However, data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency and a private research firm found emissions increased in 2018.
The information agency noted that 2018 had a cold winter, driving up energy consumption. The agency expects emissions will decrease this year.
Perry said she supports Presidential Donald J. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate agreement, “because other countries are not required to set specific targets and specific dates.”
When asked about climate change, Thomas said, “I believe that the science and the data don’t lie on this.
“I share Congressman Walter Jones’ opposition to seismic testing and offshore drilling,” he said. “I believe we need to work to find ways to prevent flooding in eastern North Carolina and mitigate the impacts of stronger, more frequent hurricane damage on local businesses and families.”
When the survey was conducted in May, half of the respondents had not formulated a hard opinion about the candidates, Ball said, but when asked about supporting a generic candidate of the various political parties, 49.3 percent favored a Republican candidate to 41 percent favoring a Democratic candidate.
“Sixty-two percent of voters in this fairly conservative district are concerned about the impacts of climate change, Ball said. “They realize this is not just an idea we talk about, they realize this is an issue that affects their lives every year.”
That the reason why, as the the Sept. 10 special election grows closer, Ball, Brown and others hope environmental issues become a bigger part of candidate discussions.