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Locals see need for offshore oil production

There is worry for drinking water supply

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POSTED: April 7, 2010 10:39 a.m.
U.S. Geologic Service illustration/

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Although new studies and surveys have not yet determined the feasibility of offshore oil drilling, most Georgians seem in favor of President Barack Obama’s recent proposal to explore and expand domestic energy resources.
The administration proposes to end a moratorium on oil and natural gas exploration from Delaware to Florida, and will allow similar exploration in Alaska, except for Bristol Bay. Actual drilling would not begin for years. The government’s most recent research, based on seismic data, was completed back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Burke Brantley with Gov. Sonny Perdue’s press office believes a balance between the environment and the need for expanding domestic energy resources can be reached.
“The governor has in the past advocated for more domestic (oil) production,” Brantley said.
He said the United States currently relies on an unstable foreign oil market.
Brantley added research will first be conducted north of Georgia, off the shores of Virginia and Delaware.
“It will give us a chance to see how it (exploration) is going and to be more prepared when they start looking in our area,” he said.
However, some experts have expressed concern drilling off the East Coast and Gulf Coast could impact marine life or the Floridan aquifer, a source of fresh drinking water for large areas of the Southeast. The aquifer lies underneath 100,000 square miles of land stretching from South Carolina and Georgia across Florida to Alabama and Mississippi.
“I don’t see where it would have that much effect on anything, unless there is an accidental oil spill,” said Yellow Bluff Marina Shop manager Raburn Goodman.
Goodman, who stressed “I am not an expert,” has fished in Georgia’s coastal waters all his life. He said most of his customers fish in area rivers and sounds, and a few fish in deeper waters offshore.
Jimmy Smith, who owns the McIntosh Company in Liberty County, said he is not qualified to judge the proposed plan’s environmental implications. Smith said research still needs to be done. But, he does believe the United States should drill more of its own oil.
“I do believe America has got to do something to stop the flow of our money to oil-rich, Middle Eastern countries,” Smith said.
He said people have done more harm to the world’s oceans through careless pollution and rampant development along once pristine beaches. Smith added the transport of coal, petroleum and minerals by ship is also a risky endeavor.
He pointed to last week’s wreck of a Chinese ship that rammed into Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, damaging coral and spilling two tons of fuel that could potentially harm marine life.
Smith said careful monitoring of offshore oil drilling may prove less harmful to the world’s oceans.
Phil Odom, a charter member of the Ogeechee Riverkeepers and a commercial fisherman, said he sees “good and bad” in the president’s proposed plan to drill for oil offshore.
“My biggest concern is this; do we need to be drilling wells below the floor of our water storage tank — the Floridan aquifer system?” he asked. “The science is not clear — it is not really known what the impact of oil drilling would have on the underground water supply.”
Odom said the aquifer covers 100,000 square miles below land, but may extend 200,000 square miles out underneath the ocean floor. Scientists have not yet determined the aquifer’s exact dimensions below the ocean floor, he said.
Like Smith, Odum said new surveys must be completed before any drilling begins.
“Technology has made leaps and bounds to read geologic formations since the last survey was done,” he said.
Odum said based on what he knows of the geology of Georgia and Florida, it would be “difficult” to obtain oil. He said the ocean floor near the Georgia coast is relatively flat and there are no earthen “folds” that would indicate oil is present. However, there is a chance natural gas may be found off Georgia’s shore, Odum said.
Scientists must still perform a “resource assessment” to determine the existence and estimated quantity of oil and natural gas offshore, he said
Odum, a committed environmentalist, is not a stranger to the petroleum industry. He worked in the industry from 1980 to 2000, and said there are more technical safeguards on offshore oil rigs today compared to 30 or 40 years ago.
There are advantages and disadvantages to offshore oil drilling, he added.
“When you put up a platform, you’re creating an artificial reef. That’s a plus. But the risk of a mishap is not a plus,” Odum said.
“Too often we stop at the edge of our political boundaries instead of looking at the whole system,” he said.
 

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