Exxon Valdez: 20 years on

Tuesday, March 24 marks the 20th anniversary of one of the worst environmental disasters in history, the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Two decades later, oil spills are still a regular occurrence. Earlier this month, a tanker crashed off the coast of Australia, pouring 52,000 gallons of oil into the ocean and shutting down local fisheries.

Legislative leaders here in NC should be commended for taking a hard look at the pros and cons of offshore drilling, which undoubtedly would have an effect on the economically important fisheries off our coast.

When it comes to our state, it's crucial to remember that it's not just tanker accidents that pour oil into our oceans.

Offshore drilling platforms are particularly vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes; the Coast Guard estimates that during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, roughly 9 million gallons of oil were spilled (that's on par with the Exxon Valdez). And, according to data from the Minerals Management Service, U.S. offshore drilling has sent an average of 47,800 barrels of oil a year into the oceans since 1993.

Why else is drilling off our coast not such a good idea?
  • On the Outer Continental Shelf, North Carolina's coast sustains the largest deep sea reef in the world, estimated to be the size of South Carolina.

  • North Carolina is the sixth-most tourism dependent state in the country; some coastal counties are almost entirely tourism-dependent.

  • The Gulf Stream current off the North Carolina coast is among the most economically important marine resources of the entire Southeast. Known for its biodiversity, the Gulf Stream is a prime fishing area renowned for its marlin, mahi mahi, grouper, rockfish, snapper and other fish that frequent the warm waters.

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