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Fake It ‘Til You Make It

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Oceana NC presents mock oil spill and wind farm
Fri., 4/20 • Riverfront Park • 11 a.m.
Rally against seismic testing
Thurs., 4/26 • Hilton Riverside • 6 p.m.

ENERGY PHOTO-OP: Through Oceana NC’s promotions of offshore wind, students at UNCW, such as Alyssa Cochran (above), participated in a campaign to raise awareness on options outside of offshore drilling. Courtesy photo

It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since images from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster first aired on our television sets and ingrained our memories. The environmental and economic devastation caused by the largest spill in United States history was simply astonishing. Eleven workers lost their lives and over 205 million gallons of oil were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico; that’s enough to heat over 13,000 houses for an entire year.

Oceana, the world’s largest international ocean conservation group, wants to make sure everyone in the port city remembers the catastrophe. After all, two years later, oil can still be spotted on the sea floor. They also want to ensure a spill as devastating as Deepwater Horizon could never happen off the NC coast, by encouraging the use of clean offshore wind energy.

“Offshore wind doesn’t exist anywhere in the United States, but it’s been done in Western Europe since 1991,” Zachary Keith, a local organizer with Oceana’s Climate and Energy Campaign, says. Keith emphasizes that offshore wind can eliminate millions of tons of fossil-fuel pollution. “It’s proven technology that’s provided environmental benefits in terms of reduction of greenhouse gases—and there’s no risk of oil spills.”

The group will be staging a mock oil spill and wind farm simultaneously downtown on Friday, April 20th at Riverfront Park. They plan to use 200 mini fans to spread awareness and promote offshore wind in place of offshore drilling. “In the spring of 2010 there were some proposed lease agreements off the east coast for drilling; thankfully that window has closed for a little bit and we have a temporary reprieve,” Keith states. He and his Oceana colleagues want to show North Carolinians safer forms of energy.

The state is also perfectly poised to see some serious economic gains if offshore wind becomes a reality. “North Carolina has some of the best potential for offshore wind on the east coast,” Keith explains. In fact, an Oceana report shows North Carolina, Delaware and Massachusetts could each generate enough electricity to meet their current energy needs, totally eliminating the need to use fossil fuels in their electric production. Altogether, the Atlantic Coast region has the potential to heat every home in America.

Wind power isn’t just environmentally friendly, either. It can create new jobs in this struggling economy. Estimates suggest that between 133,000 and 212,000 jobs will be created annually. Many of those new positions could be in NC.

So, if offshore wind energy makes environmental and economic sense, why has progress toward it been so slow? Obviously big oil companies don’t want to lose any potential profit, and Keith believes that many others just need more information. He also admits offshore wind energy is more expensive to put in place initially.

“We’re trying to get people to be more forward-thinking, which is sometimes a difficult sell because people are so focused on what’s happening right now,” Keith says. “You can’t get around that initial cost, but fossil-fuel prices go up whereas once clean energy is created, your resource is free.”

Local Oceana members have made a point to discuss offshore drilling with as many folks as they can. They’ve met with the Wilmington City Council, the New Hanover County Commissioners, as well as Wrightsville, Carolina and Brunswick beach officials. Keith reports they’ve had fairly positive reactions. They’ve also stepped up their presence on UNCW’s campus. Many students have taken part in their photo campaign.

“I participated because the people promoting it on campus were personable, and I believe in what Oceana stands for,” Amanda Powell, a senior business major, shares.

Like other students, Powell posed with a mini-fan and sign which stated “Ban Offshore Drilling! Bring Onshore Wind!” All the photographs are posted to the Oceana North Carolina Facebook page.

Getting more people involved in this movement is especially pressing to Keith and other environmental activists because the Interior Department, the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling permits, is holding a hearing in Wilmington at the Hilton Riverside Hotel on April 26th. The department wants to pursue seismic exploration in our region; basically that means they use air guns and dynamite in the water to search for oil and gas deposits. Keith fears this would be the first step toward offshore drilling in our area.

He also worries that it could have an impact on our local marine life. “ABC News recently did a report on the Gulf where they have been carrying out seismic testing and they’ve been finding dolphins washed up on shore dead,” Keith remarks.

While more study is needed on the potential effects of seismic testing, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that 714 dolphins and whales have been stranded from the Florida Panhandle all the way to Texas since February 2010. Of those animals, 95 percent were found dead. Typically, that area only sees 74 dolphin deaths per year. As a result, activists have launched lawsuits against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a division of the Interior Department, that have greatly restricted the seismic testing in the region.

Keith hopes some of the Seahawks and other locals they’ve spoken with will spread the word about offshore wind and help bring about change. “Once we talk to people about it, they get it,” Keith states. “Then they can turn that knowledge into advocacy.”

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