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Opinions on offshore oil drilling in N.C. unchanged for now

The massive oil spill threatening Louisiana's environmentally fragile coast hasn't changed many minds among North Carolina politicians about offshore drilling here, but several say the disaster was a warning.

Senate leader Marc Basnight, whose district includes a swath of northern coast heavily reliant on tourism and fishing — and clean water — said the spill was a reminder of the need to shift to greener sources of energy.

"I'd much rather look out on an ocean populated by wind turbines than oil rigs," he said. "Who wouldn't?"

Basnight, a Democrat, has softened his "never" stance on offshore drilling slightly in recent years, and said the spill hadn't changed his position: that there should be drilling only if energy companies sign ironclad agreements to not only pay for cleaning up any spills but to compensate coastal residents for any resulting loss in income.

Shrimpers and fishermen in Louisiana have already filed a lawsuit, claiming the spill there, which is growing by 5,000 barrels a day and now covers an area 600 miles around, will destroy their industry.

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue was once opposed to drilling, but in recent months has said that it appears inevitable. She said that if North Carolina must endure the risks, it should be compensated. She was in Europe on a trade mission and vacation Thursday, but spokesman Tim Crowley said the Louisiana spill underlined the wisdom of creating a group of experts.

"It emphasizes the importance of making sure that any drilling off our coast would be safe, which is why the governor put together an advisory panel of experts to review these issues and make recommendations," Crowley said.

In Washington, the spill has complicated President Barack Obama's plan to expand offshore oil drilling in areas long out of bounds to energy development, forcing administration officials to promise a more critical look at the potential environmental risks. White House officials acknowledged Thursday that the explosion could affect decisions on offshore drilling, depending on what investigators determine caused the accident.

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