New report: Offshore drilling could bring onshore damages to North Carolina

Media Contacts
Jean-Luc Duvall

Environment North Carolina shows polluting onshore effects from offshore drilling

Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina — Plans to expand drilling off the coast of North Carolina could have significant negative impacts onshore, according to a new report released today by Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center. From pipelines running through sensitive coastal habitats to air pollution released by oil refineries, “Offshore Drilling, Onshore Damage: Broken Pipelines, Dirty Refineries and the Pollution Impacts of Energy Infrastructure” highlights how onshore industrial infrastructure created for offshore drilling damages our environment in a variety of ways. 

“We want to visit clean beaches, smell the ocean breeze, and admire the marine life off our coast — not avoid pipelines, choke on pollution from oil refineries, and contend with oil barges,” said Jean-Luc Duvall, campaign director for Environment North Carolina.“Drilling off our coast may seem far removed from our homes and businesses, but the onshore infrastructure necessary for drilling creates a pressing threat to the health of our ecosystems and our citizens.”

According to the report, pipelines running from offshore rigs to inland processing facilities can degrade estuaries’ water quality and risk spilling oil across our beloved beaches. In addition, toxic waste brought onshore from drilling operations can pollute drinking water and tracts of land. Beyond those issues, air pollution from oil refineries can threaten local residents’ health. 

The study shows that these problems could only get worse. Expanding offshore drilling, as the Department of the Interior proposed last year, could lead to additional infrastructure pollution in previously pristine coastal areas, where communities have long been able to avoid this type of industrialization. 

“We want to reduce our dependence on any type of fossil fuel, and it would be a fool’s errand to explore natural gas when we haven’t fully exhausted our solar and wind options,” said State Representative Deb Butler, “Secondarily, insofar as tourism is a huge economic driver for Eastern North Carolina, I would never risk one drop of oil on our shores, because that would upend our tourism industry as well as our way of life.”

“We are so thankful that the US East Coast has never been plunged into oil drilling which helped protect the most vulnerable ecological balance from all the stress that drilling entails on the marine fisheries and wildlife,” says Mary Baggett, owner of the Blockade Runner Beach Resort, “Obviously, any spill on the Florida, Georgia, or South Carolina coast would deposit on our North Carolina coast due to the Gulfstream and eliminate the beauty, recreational value, and serenity of our waters.  A treasure we cannot afford to lose.”

Although they were unavailable to attend the report’s release, Dr. Joni Backstrom and Professor Roger Shew of UNC Wilmington had their own remarks to provide:

“[Oil companies] must undertake a proper impact assessment in order to really avoid the most sensitive receptors, taking into account for example, commercial fishing areas, coastal tourism, reefs, right whale migration routes and shipwrecks,” says Dr. Backstrom.

“The North Carolina coast, along with Florida and Louisiana, are the three most impacted coastlines for storm occurrences in the U.S. Though platforms are designed to resist storm impacts, there have certainly been issues with platforms, pipelines, and onshore storage facilities. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 led to spills of over 11 million gallons,” says Professor Shew, “And with somewhat increasing storm intensities, such as seen with Dorian and Michael, we should be aware of the possibilities of damages associated with these types of storms.”

In January 2018, the Trump administration released a plan to open more than 90 percent of America’s oceans to oil & gas drilling, including off North Carolina’s coast. The plan is an unprecedented expansion of offshore drilling and faces stiff opposition, including from every governor along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

“Whether it causes oil spills off our coast or pollution on our shores, offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous,” said Duvall, “We don’t want drilling off our coast, now or ever.”


The Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization. We are dedicated to protecting North Carolina’s air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help North Carolinians make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information about Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center or for additional copies of this report, please visit

Comments from Dr. Joni Backstrom and Professor Roger Shew are their own; they do not represent positions of UNC Wilmington or other organizations with which they are affiliated.