Senate Leader Marc Basnight said he and House Speaker Joe Hackney will appoint a commission to study the potential benefits and risks of drilling for oil off the coast of North Carolina.
The legislature has no power to stop the federal government from authorizing offshore exploration, and federal officials have asked for public comment on drilling off the coast of Virginia.
Basnight, a Manteo Democrat, said he strongly opposes drilling, because he said it would provide a relative pittance of oil while risking damaging or destroying the costal ecosystem and economy.
"If the study were to come back and say we have this incredible find and it is larger than anything man has seen, I'd have to look at that," Basnight said.
Basnight said the study would cost as much as $100,000 and take a year or more. The commission would include lawmakers and experts from the state's universities who would study how much oil is off the coast and what would happen if oil companies began drilling for it. Meanwhile, the state has already funded a study at UNC-Chapel Hill to investigate producing wind-powered energy off the coast. Basnight said the two studies may help convince people that drilling — a popular idea for some during national and local elections — may not be the best course of action.
Pat McCrory, the Charlotte Mayor who ran as a Republican for governor, supported drilling and the jobs he said it would create. Gov.-elect Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, said she would favor a study of the issue.
State Republican Party chairwoman Linda Daves said the study would be a waste of money.
"If Marc Basnight and Democrats in Raleigh intend to commission a $100,000 study with the results they want already in mind, then don't bother. Take the money and refund it to taxpayers so they can pay their home heating bills this winter, but stop wasting our money on meaningless studies with predetermined outcomes," Daves said in a news release. "Here is a novel concept for the Democrat leadership in Raleigh: Listen to the people! The people of North Carolina overwhelmingly support offshore drilling as one means among many to modernize our energy economy and move us toward a stronger, more secure future."
Basnight told reporters that he doesn't want the study to help support his point of view, but to gather facts on what drilling would and would not do.
In the late 1980s, Mobile and Chevron began pursuing drilling off the coast. What enthusiasm there was for the effort dissipated when it became clear that the state would not see any royalties from the oil, Basnight said.
Update: Post includes comment from Republican Party head.