U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis delivered his first speech on the Senate floor Tuesday on offshore drilling, which he says would be a boon for North Carolina. The Charlotte Republican teamed up with U.S. Richard Burr, a Winston-Salem Republican, and offered an amendment to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline legislation that would allow drilling for oil and natural gas off Mid-Atlantic and South-Atlantic states.
President Barack Obama had planned to allow drilling off the East Coast, starting in Virginia, but changed course after the massive 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Interior Department then excluded any petroleum leasing in the Atlantic waters through 2017.
The Tillis-Burr amendment directs the Secretary of the Interior to work out a five-year lease program to allow drilling along the Outer Continental Shelf from Florida to Delaware. The amendment, though, is likely to be more of a political statement because Obama has promised to veto the underlying Keystone pipeline bill.
Obama, meanwhile, has already approved seismic exploration for oil and gas in the Atlantic. He is considering whether to open the Atlantic waters to drilling and is expected to make an announcement soon.
Offshore energy exploration is a controversial subject in North Carolina as well as across the country. Critics charge it poses a serious threat to coastal environments and the tourism industry. They warn of ugly drilling platforms off the coast.
Tillis said the proposal is about creating opportunities for Americans. He said the proposal would support hundreds of thousands, reduce the cost of utilities for families, and move the nation closer to energy independence.
One study, Tillis cited, found the proposal could generate $4 billion in state revenue and support more than 55,000 jobs in North Carolina.
“Keep in mind, ladies and gentlemen, the drilling that we’re talking about in north Carolina off our coast is greater than 30 miles off the coast – far beyond the site horizon of our beautiful beaches of North Carolina,” Tillis said from the floor.