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Benefits of offshore wind, drilling weighed

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Harnessing the Atlantic Ocean’s offshore wind energy potential, especially off the coast of North Carolina, could provide a better path to energy independence and job creation, a report released by ocean conservation group Oceana states.

If government estimates of Atlantic oil and gas reserves are accurate, oil would generate enough energy for less than five months of national consumption, while gas would meet less than 10 months of national consumption, the report found; wind energy, it continued, could out-produce oil and gas within 13 years.

“If we commit ourselves to developing offshore wind resources, it could definitely surpass all that we have with oil and gas,” said Andrew Menaquale, report author and Oceana Energy Analyst. “Also, keep in mind, once that oil and gas runs out, it’s gone. Offshore wind, well beyond that, will keep producing energy and will continue to power coastal communities.”

North Carolina could lead a shift to wind energy, Menaquale said, because it offers more potential to produce it than other East Coast states.

“That could be the beginning. That could really accelerate the industry,” Menaquale said. About 300,000 acres off the coast of Kitty Hawk and Wilmington could be leased for offshore wind energy development, following an environmental assessment by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

North Carolina could also be a leader in offshore oil and gas operations, said American Petroleum Institute spokesperson Brian Straessle. Straessle referred to a report compiled by industry consultant Quest Offshore, which states drilling off the Atlantic coast could yield about 6,000 barrels of oil equivalent each day if operations begin in 2026, increasing to more than 1 million barrels per day by 2035. The Quest Offshore estimates predict North Carolina, which boasts a large portion of the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf, will see the most offshore oil and gas activity if the Atlantic opens for drilling, generating more than $4 billion in revenue and 55,000 jobs.

The Oceana report estimates wind energy development would spur about 91,000 jobs by 2035. The energy produced by offshore wind farms would stay in North Carolina, Menaquale continued, and contribute to local energy independence.

“That’s typically how offshore wind farms work. They’re going to power the communities that are closest to them. … In comparison, oil and gas drilled off the coast of North Carolina is not going to stay in North Carolina. It’s a global commodity, and it will be bought and sold internationally,” Menaquale said.

Straessle said the country has undergone an energy renaissance over the last five to seven years, and although he cited numbers from the U.S. Energy Information Administration suggesting oil and natural gas will play the largest role in domestic energy consumption in the next 25 years, he said all energy sources should be explored and utilized.

“We believe you really do need an all-of-the-above approach, and that includes wind, that includes oil and natural gas, and all the other forms of energy we use,” Straessle said.

The ocean energy bureau is expected to release a draft of the proposed 2017-2022 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program, a blueprint for offshore oil and gas drilling operations, for public comment in the next few weeks. If the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf opens for lease sales in the 2017-2022 plan, oil and gas production is not expected until 2026, with seismic testing, exploratory drilling and infrastructure development taking place first.

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