Editorial: Keep offshore drilling away from Georgia’s coast
Many Georgians don’t like the idea of oil rigs dotting the horizon along their share of the South Atlantic Bight, that sinuous, concave coastline running from Cape Fear, North Carolina, to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Many in Carolina and Florida have also rejected this vision of the future.
Governors of these states — and all other states along the Eastern seaboard — have loudly stated their opposition to lifting the Obama-era ban on drilling in U.S. coastal waters. Coastal, or territorial, waters extend out 12 nautical or 13.8 standard miles from the low tide line.
Despite the outcry, the Trump administration was set to expand offshore drilling along the coast. A draft of a plan to do so was released last year and a final plan that would outline how oil lease sales would proceed was expected to be released this month.
But a court decision got in the way.
Back to the drawing board
On March 30, Judge Sharon L. Gleason of the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska concluded that a ban by President Obama on 120 million acres of the Arctic Ocean and 3.8 million acres in the Atlantic “will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress.″
This sent Trump Department of Interior officials, including newly appointed Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil industry lobbyist, back to their drawing boards.
The decision won the hearts of hundreds of participants at last week’s Hands Across the Sand event on Tybee Island. Various local officials joined beach-goers in joining hands at the pier to show resistance to offshore drilling and ocean pollution.
Hands Across the Sand began in Florida in late 2009 to protest attempts to lift the ban on oil drilling offshore there. It gained momentum in 2010 after the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf. This year, the Tybee effort was one of about 130 synchronized international events.
Anti-offshore activists have had some victories this year. In Georgia, a resolution opposing offshore drilling passed handily. Gov. Brian Kemp and U.S Rep. Buddy Carter also expressed opposition to drilling.
Carter initially supported offshore drilling, saying he wanted to keep the nation’s and Georgia’s energy options open. However, when faced with overwhelming opposition from his constituents and the Pooler City Council, Carter reversed his position. He said he personally felt offshore drilling should be an option, but was simply acknowledging the concerns and feelings of his district.
Not off the table
So where does all this leave offshore drilling in coastal waters? That is perhaps as difficult to predict as it is to say how much oil is in those waters and what having it on hand would mean. With more than 40 million acres along the outer continental shelf already available for oil exploration, opening near shore waters would be a terrible idea, putting the coastal Georgia ecosystem at risk.
The Energy Information Administration estimates that the current off-limits coastal waters in the lower 48 states might hold about 18 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil. However, up-to-date, comprehensive assessments have not been made in many years.
Since the U.S. consumes about 7.5 billion barrels of oil each year, the untapped nearshore sea floor might supply the country’s energy needs for a little more than two years, if the estimates are correct.
It’s simply not worth the risks, which can potentially include environmental damage, destruction of fishing economies and devastation of tourism in oil-soaked coastal areas. Meanwhile, other sources of energy like natural gas, wind and solar power continue to come online, reducing the nation’s overall dependence on oil.
The Trump administration’s plans have been postponed indefinitely, but they’re not off the table.
The administration’s track record on rolling back environmental regulations hasn’t been stellar. Environment law experts estimate that the administration has lost about 40 cases in federal courts related to its rollback efforts.
Let’s enjoy summer on the beaches of Coastal Georgia. And let’s keep our coastline safe from any potential damage that might result from offshore oil drilling.