Savannah Morning News
Augusts 16, 2017
By Mary Landers
For this round, local businesses are adding their voices to the list of those opposed.
About 30 Georgia businesses have joined the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast. Not quite a year old, the South Carolina-based organization boasts the support of more than 41,000 business and 500,000 commercial fishing families for its efforts to protect the Atlantic Coast from offshore oil/gas exploration and drilling.
Michael Neal, owner of Bull River Cruises, is among the local participants.
“Both the beauty of Coastal Georgia and the nature of Coastal Georgia have more importance that the potential of offshore drilling,” said Neal, whose 19-year-old business employs five people for its educational and historical cruises to places such as Ossabaw Island. “Plus, there are potential impacts if anything goes wrong.”
The Obama administration removed the Atlantic coast from consideration for offshore drilling and denied permits to companies seeking to explore for undersea oil reserves using seismic airguns, which produce sounds that bounce off the sea floor as they’re towed in an array behind a boat. Sea life ranging from tiny phytoplankton to enormous whales are at risk of harm from the sound waves.
In April, President Donald Trump revived the prospects for offshore drilling and exploration with an executive order. It calls for a review of the current five-year program for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf and directs the administration to fast-track the permitting process for seismic airgun blasting for an area stretching from Delaware to Florida.
Along with businesses, local governments along the coast have expressed opposition to both offshore drilling and seismic testing. Among those passing resolutions are Savannah, Tybee, Hinesville and Brunswick. The governors of both North and South Carolina have voiced opposition to drilling off the Atlantic coast.
But state and federal elected officials in Georgia still back drilling.
“As I have said many times in the past, I support an all-of-the-above energy strategy which includes offshore development in the Atlantic,” U.S. Rep Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, said in a written statement. “At the same time I have also said that I believe any future energy exploration should ensure that our beautiful coasts are protected.”
Carter represents every coastal county in Georgia. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, signed on to a July 26 letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in support of developing the new five-year leasing program offshore. Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia, in May characterized the lifting of the offshore leasing ban as President Trump “moving to develop a strategic approach to America’s God-given energy resources.”
Georgia’s 100-mile coastline is not thought to have a wealth of oil and gas, based on previous exploration.
“Georgia’s endowment of recoverable oil and gas would only meet domestic demand for one day,” said Dustin Cranor of the conservation group Oceana. “So we want to do all this risk for one day.”
Cranor noted that federal regulators have historically looked to local and state leaders for direction on drilling.
“Which is why we haven’t seen the West Coast ever included because they’ve been vocally opposed for years,” he said.
Georgia could still be removed from the plan.
“This is the stage when if a governor spoke up they could be removed from the draft plan,” said Oceana’s Samantha Siegel. “This is the stage when Maryland and Florida were removed last time around.”
In 2012, there were nearly 250,000 ocean-related jobs in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, and the ocean economy contributed $14.6 billion to the economies in the region, according to a report from the Center for the Blue Economy. The ocean economy provided more than $7.5 billion in wages in the same year.
Entrepreneurs who rely on a healthy ocean, like Neal, don’t want to risk all that.
“It is something that when you weigh all the factors in, every logical person not involved in the petroleum business will say no.”