By JEFF D. HILL Staff Writer
About 100 UNC students, primarily members of the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), will take part in a protest tonight against the proposed Mobil Oil Corp. drilling off the N.C. coast, SEAC co-chairwoman Ericka Kurz said Wednesday. The protest will precede a public hearing at the Velvet Cloak Inn in Raleigh. Kurz said Greenpeace, the international environmental protection group, was organizing the protest. Organizers expect about 1,000 people to be at the 6:30 p.m. protest. The hearing starts at 7 p.m. The public hearing is to determine whether Mobil's plan is consistent with the N.C. coastal management program and whether it can be done safely, according to J.D. Ferguson, an office manager at the office of Outer Continental Shelf in Raleigh.
Safety considerations are the primary reason for the protest, Kurz said. "There are so many problems caused by gas and oil exploration. There's everything from oil spills to water quality and air quality. Then there are reasons that citizens can be concerned for the fishing and tourism industries." Offshore drilling and exploration rights are controlled by the Minerals Management Service of the U.S. Department of Interior because the offshore acreage belongs to the federal government, but the state of North Carolina can fight the issue in court if it is not satisfied with Mobil's proposal, Ferguson said.
Jim Martin, director of Mobil's N.C. project, said in a telephone interview that the drilling would take place about 45 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras. He said there was a 10 percent chance of finding natural gas off the N.C. coast and a "one in 1 percent" chance of finding oil. The rising oil and natural gas costs have made such oil drilling cost effective, Martin said. "If this project and other projects like it are prohibited, this country will continue to have to import more and more of it (oil) from overseas, and that oil comes to us in tankers."
Kurz said the recent Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska would work in SEAC's favor. "The Valdez accident has caused a political reaction in the Congress of the United States that we see causing some very unwise decisions about offshore oil and gas drilling," Martin said. He said prohibition of offshore drilling increased the likelihood for oil spills because more tankers would have to be used to meet U.S. oil needs. According to Martin, less than 0.05 percent of the oil spilled into the earth's oceans has come from offshore oil production, whereas 47 percent has come from transport-related accidents. "Mobil has an excellent record for safety operations around the world. In particular, in the Gulf of Mexico Mobil has twice received from the government the annual Safe Award." Mobil is the only company to have won the award for environmental safety more than once, Martin said. "I believe that is an indication of the kind of serious intention Mobil places on safety of operations and on our environmental covenant, which is taken very seriously by the corporate officers, every operating manager and everyone that works for Mobil."
Kurz said, "It would not make a difference what company is doing the drilling because they all have the same technology." In addition to oil spills, oil rigs produce high amounts of pollution daily. Kurz said the dirt and sludge displaced by the drilling contained chemical and radioactive material. Marine organisms absorb this material and smother, she said.