Impact of Offshore Oil Drilling and Seismic Testing on North Carolina

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Debates on the environmental devastation caused by oil exploration and seismic tests continue to rage. This follows President Trump’s April 2017 executive order to accelerate offshore oil exploration in the Arctic and Atlantic. The government intends to expand oil drilling into the Pacific through this order. The directive, which is a step toward adopting the “America-First Offshore Strategy,” is intended to protect the nation’s energy future by reducing the country’s reliance on foreign sources (Eilperin n.p). While seismic testing and oil drilling could provide varied economic benefits to the state, the huge impact it could have on marine life and ocean waters tend to negate these gains.

Oil drilling refers to the complex processes involved in the extraction and pumping of oil from several meters under the seabed. Often, drilling is carried out after a series of tests have been undertaken to determine the viability of oil extraction in a given region (Eilperin n.p). The processes involved in successful surveys and oil drilling utilizes numerous chemical compounds that do not only pollute ocean waters but also derail growth of marine life. With the oncoming implementation of the said executive order, it is vital that researchers explore the impact of such activities to enable parties make informed decisions. This paper discusses the substantial negative impact that oil drilling and seismic testing could have on the environment, people and businesses in North Carolina.

Impact on marine life

Marine sanctuaries play a vital role in the economy of the nation. Coastal North Carolina is endowed with some of the most unique and finest fish species and other wildlife. Rare sharks such as southern sting, rough nosed ray and the nurse shark require stable environments to flourish; this would however be impossible with the invasion of oil drillers and explorers in the ocean. Noise produced during Seismic surveys could have serious impacts on marine life. It is important to note that most aquatic animals use sound detectors as communication devices for preying and mating (Hardy n.p). During seismic tests, compressed air streams are directed towards the ocean floor using airgun to determine the exact location and volume of a prospective valuable geological resource underneath. According to Hardy (n.p), sound produced by airgun blasting during seismic testing ranges between 180 decibels to 240 decibels. The sound, which is deemed to be a million times greater than a blue whale’s call, can travel a distance of 2,500 miles. As the area covered during blasting increases, the number of marine animals that are affected also increases. The intensity of the sound could deafen not just animals within the blast areas but also endanger other specifies within 200,000 square miles (Hardy n.p). Damage to hearing could eventually affect the social interactions between species thereby impacting on their ability to mate. The noise could also alter animal behavior and scare off marine animals thereby driving them out of their natural habitats. This could especially impact on the population of the species of animals protected under the endangered species act.

Besides the deafening blasting noise, marine life would also affected by the continued use of chemicals and oil spills in the ocean. Seismic testing uses undetonated explosives which eventually remain in the ground until they decay; a process that will often take an unspecified number of years. Some of the chemicals present in these explosives include Pentolite which is known to cause contamination to sea water. According to Brady (n.p), exposing endangered species of the arctic and Atlantic to these environments increases their risk of exposure to disastrous oil spill and should be deemed illegal. Drilling could increase the frequency of oil spillage into sea water. The gulf oil spill, which is the worst oil spill ever experienced in the United States, resulted from poor maintenance of deepwater horizon oil rig (Thompson n.p). An ongoing leakage of gas and oil on the ocean floor eventually led to an explosion that continues to affect marine life . When spillage occurs, the supply of oxygen to aquatic life is equally cut. A reduction in the supply of oxygen could affect the composition of gases in the sea leading to a build-up of toxic chemicals. In a bid to control this, chemical dispersants were utilized to allow the oil mix with sea water. Some of the spilled oil eventually settled on the sea floor causing damage to deep sea corals and destroying other rare ecosystems.

Impact on the environment

Besides harming aquatic life, emissions from the oil power plants could have disastrous impact on the environment. While oil spillage can readily be sighted and rectified, debris deposited in the lower parts of the seabed as well as carbon emissions into the atmosphere are less likely to be identified. Burning petroleum during drilling produces a number of gases that are not just harmful to sea animals but also humans. Some of the most toxic gases include carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, mercury as well as lead waste. While Sulphur dioxide causes acid rain which is harmful to plant and animal health, lead and various air toxics could have severe health impacts especially on children. In a bid to regulate these emissions, Environmental Protection Agency had initially put in place measures to ensure minimal emission of carbon and other harmful gases. However, extension of the deadline on use of heavy metals by power plants would facilitate utilization of more powerful and toxic metals in the ocean (Thompson, n.p). The rollback of this regulation is deemed to increase the volume of carbon emission into the atmosphere by manufacturing firms. This comes at a time when the country is experiencing catastrophic impacts of hurricanes that are as a result of global warming. Rather than loosening regulations on such emissions, it is crucial that additional measures be put in place to minimize the overriding impact of Carbon emission on global warming.

Impact on tourism

National marine sanctuaries are a source of income for businesses, citizens and state. Marine sanctuaries are regarded as a product of hard work by various parties including elected officials, governors, members of congress and scientific researchers. The marines were created using grounded scientific research and are currently set aside for as national treasures. Through tourism, marine national parks create jobs which further facilitate economic growth and development. Visitors, both domestic and foreign, tour these coastal regions in a bid to enjoy the serenity of recreational diving, boating, fishing and diving among other. According to Carnevalle (n.p), coastal tourism off the coast of North Carolina has created approximately 25,000 jobs and makes an annual contribution of 2 billion dollars towards the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Besides tourism, commercial fishing is also a booming business that employs over 5,000 people and contributes 336 million dollars towards the country’s Gross domestic product. Both fishing and tourism industries rely heavily on the health of the aquatic life. The introduction of seismic tests in the coastal waters could impact on the productivity of these industries. For successful oil drilling, companies would have to put in place huge power plants and heavy machinery at the coast (Carnevalle n.p). These plants, if constructed on tourist viewing sites, could impact greatly on the traffic of tourists to the coast. Tourist activities would also be hampered by the existence of particular matter which is a by-product of petroleum products. Particular matter is known to cause hazy conditions in scenic areas; its combination with ozone could lead to asthma and chronic bronchitis in children and the elderly. Contamination caused by the detonated explosives as well as the blasting air gun would interfere with the salinity of the coastal waters thereby making it unsuitable for animal and human use. While most animals would die from acidity, tourists would be forced to look for new diving, boating and surfing grounds. This will eventually lead to job loss.

Impact on the economy

Besides affecting wildlife and environment, oil drilling could also have a devastating impact on businesses and the entire state economy. The state plays host to a number of retail and hotel businesses. Being a tourist campsite, the coast harbors exquisite hotels that offer temporary residences to visitors in the region. The hotels equally act as a point of employment for most citizens living in the region. As earlier stated, tourism as well as fishing, play a vital role in promoting growth and development of the state of North Carolina. According to Thompson (n.p), citizens living along the Atlantic coast have expressed great concerns over the likely impacts of subjecting the region to geological surveys. While their concerns might be quite overwhelming, it is important to note that oil and gas activities could derail existing economic activities and impact growth. The invasion of the waters by companies would curtail the area available for fishing and other aquatic activities. The decline in the volume of activities would lead to closure of most businesses, massive layoff and eventual loss of livelihood. This will eventually lead to a fall in the volume of GDP.


The wellbeing of any ecosystem relies heavily on the interaction between its inhabitants. Existence and survival of every sea creature is perpetuated by the activities undertaken on land and in the sea. Aquatic animals play a key role in ensuring financial and economic well being of human beings residing in the coast. The introduction of geological activities off the coast could have devastating impact on marine life. While most economists and policy developers would readily cite economic independence as one of the major reasons for further exploration of sea beds for energy, the costs of such explorations would definitely outweigh the benefits. Chemical reagents and explosives, power plants and emission of reactive gases could harm not just marine life but also human life. The state would have to bear the costs of losing the breathtaking views of its marine national parks which would have been a great heritage for future generations. It must also be ready to provide compensation to its citizens for job loss and cater for the rising costs of treatment resulting from carbon emissions. Environmentally, the government would have to put in place additional measures to curb the rising impact of global warming; which is an aftermath of the products of power plant emissions. Otherwise, it is deemed to suffer from more devastating and disastrous climate change effects such as the probable Hurricane Maria.


Brady Dennis. Environmental Groups Sue Trump Administration Over Offshore Drilling. WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post, Washington, 2017, ProQuest Central,

Carnevale, Chris. “Clean Energy Footprints.” Clean Energy Footprints » Archive » Local Biz Owners Say Offshore Drilling is Bad for Business, 14 Feb. 2014, Accessed 2 Oct. 2017.

Eilperin, Juliet. Trump Signs Executive order to expand drilling off America’s Coasts: We’re opening it up. Washington: WP Company LLC d/b/a. The Washington Post. 2017. Retrieved from

Hardy, Brettny. “Seismic Blasting Would Deafen Marine Mammals.” Earthjustice,

Thompson, S. Offshore Drilling Debate Heats Up. Savannah Morning News. 2015. Retrieved from

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