Statewide: Eastern region, July 2015

 In 2015-07
Drilling it home

Opposition is mounting in North Carolina’s coastal communities as the federal government considers opening the waters off the Tar Heel coast to offshore drilling. By mid-June, at least 15 boards in mostly coastal areas, including commissioners in Dare County, Wrightsville Beach and Emerald Isle, had passed resolutions opposing either offshore drilling or seismic blasting, according to Washington, D.C.-based environmental group Oceana. Local chambers of commerce, fishing industry groups and tourism boards also have spoken out. A meeting in March in Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks to get comments on the proposal drew a crowd of about 670 people — a record for the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. While some town resolutions call for more study, others are opposed to drilling and blasting no matter what.

But Gov. Pat McCrory and supporters have been vocal about opening up the state’s shoreline. U.S. senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr introduced a bill amendment in January to enable drilling in the mid- and southern Atlantic. McCrory says offshore drilling would add jobs and improve the state’s economy. He’s also pushing for revenue-sharing if drilling becomes reality. “With equitable revenue sharing in place, our state and coastal communities could receive almost $4 billion in combined public revenue over an 18-year period while more than $6 billion would be added to the federal treasury from North Carolina (Outer Continental Shelf) activity,” McCrory wrote in a letter this spring to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. But the potential windfall is uncertain, and opponents point to studies showing that North Carolina’s offshore energy resources are fairly limited. In a 2013 report, N.C. State University economics professor Mike Walden predicted offshore drilling would generate roughly half the public revenue that McCrory cites. Critics say that’s not worth the cost of lost tourism if a spill occurs. An estimated 5 million people visited Dare County in 2013, generating $953 million in revenue, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce.

“The key for North Carolina is that our coast is based on tourism and fishing and a connection to these natural resources — clean air, clean water and clean beaches,” says Sierra Weaver, senior attorney at the Chapel Hill office of Charlottesville, Va.-based Southern Environmental Law Center. Comments are closed for the time being, but Weaver expects another round to begin early next year. Less certain is when the government would award any leases for exploration: It could be more than five years away. There’s also still a chance that enough opposition could quash the proposal. “It doesn’t matter how much oil is out there because it’s not worth it,” Weaver says.



Briefs

SAMPSON COUNTY — In a joint venture with Smithfield, Va.-based Smithfield Foods, Kansas City Sausage will invest $44.8 million in a sausage production plant and will create at least 177 jobs. Average annual wage will be $31,905, lower than Sampson County’s $34,126. The Kansas City-based company will build a 90,000-square-foot plant on the site of the former Martins Abattoir & Wholesale Meats, which closed in 2013. Smithfield owns 50% of Kansas City Sausage.

LAURINBURGBlueScope Buildings North America will invest $9.2 million in an expansion of its local plant, creating 115 jobs over three years. A unit of Australia-based BlueScope Steel, the company makes components for metal buildings including warehouses and aircraft hangars. The new jobs will pay an average annual wage of $38,393, higher than Scotland County’s $35,040. BlueScope employs more than 140 people in North Carolina. The company will receive a state grant of up to $402,500 if it meets hiring goals.

PEMBROKE — Robin Cummings will become chancellor of UNC Pembroke July 15. A cardiothoracic surgeon and Pembroke native, Cummings, 59, was deputy secretary for health services for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services since 2013 and state Medicaid director since March 2014. He replaces Kyle Carter, who held the position since 2010 and retired in June.

LUMBERTONAsbury Carbons will open a plant here, adding 25 jobs over three years and investing more than $8 million. The 120-year-old, Asbury, N.J.-based company processes graphite and other carbons and minerals for use in products such as seals, gaskets, lubricants and fuel cells. The average annual wage for the new jobs will be $32,920, compared with Robeson County’s $32,493. The company was awarded a state grant of up to $100,000 if it meets job-creation goals.

WILMINGTONUNC Wilmington named Robert Burrus Jr. dean of the Cameron School of Business. He has been interim dean since June 2014, when Larry Clark resigned to become chancellor of Louisiana State University Shreveport. A faculty member since 1998, Burrus previously was chair of the department of economics and finance. The business school has about 2,200 undergraduate and graduate students.

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