Going Home to Maine

"Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden visits her native state.

— -- Here was my assignment: Go to Maine and see what the people who make their living farming the sea think about all this talk of off-shore drilling.

The issue is a particularly intriguing one in a state where so many people are struggling under the staggering increase in fuel costs and where people will be particularly hard hit this winter by the surging price of home heating oil.

Does the possibility of oil beneath that great Gulf of Maine cause the locals to chant "drill, baby, and drill?" I headed north to find out.

It was a treat this week to go home to Maine. The fact that I have now lived outside of the state longer than I ever lived in it makes little difference: Maine was home and always will be.

I grew up in the same house where my mother was born. A home my grandfather built. I went to college half an hour down the road from that house at Bowdoin. I was the first in my family fortunate enough to be able to go to college. My parents made sure I had that chance.

I knew I wanted to go to law school but also knew I needed to make some money if that dream was to come true. After three years of work (and a lot of help), I drove a U-haul truck from my parents' log cabin in Cundy's Harbor to New York City. I have lived in New York ever since, but Maine is still the mother-state to me.

Going back home as a journalist -- seeing through eyes softened to the vistas, through ears accustomed to the dialect -- being in a place where no map was needed, working in such a place brings with it added pleasure and added responsibility: a heightened desire to make the telling of the story convey all that I feel about that special place and the people who live there.

The story's tight-focus is on the people in Maine who make their lives from the sea. We talk to two such men and learn first hand how the sky-rocketing price of oil makes it harder for them to make a decent wage. How they worry that their neighbors won't be able to afford to heat their homes this winter in this state where 80 percent of the homes are heated with oil.

One tells me his in-laws face a fuel bill this winter bigger than their social security checks.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, put it bluntly, "It is an emergency. I am worried that we're going to see elderly people suffering form hypothermia, that we'll see fires as people use unsafe chimneys and burn green wood, that we'll even see carbon monoxide poisoning as people bring un-vented heaters in a desperate attempt to keep warm. People will die in Maine this winter trying everything possible to stay warm."

The price of oil has a profound impact on Proctor Wells' bottom line. A lobsterman in Phippsburg, Wells faces diesel prices 35 percent higher this year than last. CLICK HERE to see photos from a day on the water with Proctor Wells.

He tells me he now has to catch 100 lobsters a day, just to break even. On a bigger scale, it costs Ryan Raber $200,000 to fill the tank of his fishing vessel, Providian, a vast hulking mass that can carrying a million pounds of fish in its hold.

He fishes in the ecologically rich Georges Bank a hundred miles or so off shore in the Gulf of Maine. According to experts Georges Bank is one of the 12 greatest providers of fish in the world. It is also the most likely place to find oil and gas.

Tonight on "Nightline," join us as we probe a range of questions: How do those who are both being crushed by the tsunami-like rise in the cost of oil but make their living from the sea feel about off-shore drilling? Is Senator Collins a hypocrite for supporting off-shoring drilling in general but opposing it in Maine? Would drilling off the coast of Maine improve the lives of those who live there?