Offshore drilling debate heats up in Ga

Offshore drilling debate heats up in Ga
(Source: WTOC)

TYBEE ISLAND, GA (WTOC) - South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster has come out strongly in opposition against a plan to open coastal waters to offshore drilling and exploration.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, however, is still considering the idea. He tells WTOC he's waiting until a study can be completed by the Department of Natural Resources.

"I feel very sure they will do an in-depth study of what the pros and cons were to be if we were to have offshore drilling off the coast of the state of Georgia," Governor Deal said.

Proponents of offshore drilling and exploration say that it is safer, cheaper, and easier to get to previously inaccessible areas, but those against it are quick to point out that even one mistake could cause irreparable harm to one of the area's most valuable treasures. Take a walk on a beautiful day at the beach, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who wants to change the scene.

"I feel that would spoil a lot of our wildlife, a lot of sea life, and I think we would be fine without it," said Tybee visitor, Martha Labossiere. "We got here Saturday. We are going to go to River Street."

A bustling tourism industry and potential risk to the environment are two of the reasons why many people are adamantly against any type of ocean drilling - at least off of our shore.

"I think that there are too many possibilities of a spill and that will hurt the animals," said Makayla Daniel, who is also visiting Tybee.

The Trump Administration's plan to open more coastal waters has brought waves of opposition from both sides of the political ocean.

"If you can't see an oil rig from the window in Mar Largo, should you see one from the window of Pawley's Island?"

Next month, the largest oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history will take place with 77.3 million acres up for grabs in the gulf. Federal waters off the Atlantic shore are also part of the president's plan.

"Renewed offshore production will reduce the cost of energy, create countless new jobs, and make America more secure and far more energy independent," President Trump said.

"I'm never going to do anything to hurt this coast, but I think it would be very irresponsible of us just to say 'no we are not going to consider it at all," said U.S. Representative, Buddy Carter.

Congressman Carter says the decision to open coastal waters to drilling could provide independence for America - and economic opportunity for Georgia.

"There would be many jobs as a result of this. You can talk to the people off the coast of Louisiana. The fishing increases, it is one of the most popular fishing places in the world. It helps with all types of different things," Carter said.

There is a big question of whether there is much of anything to be had off our coast. Studies, last done in the 70s, weren't that promising.

"Those studies basically show that there are very limited resources in the Southeastern U.S. Certainly, oil is one of the smaller quantities and there is more gas," said Dr. Clark Alexander, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

Dr. Alexander is the director of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and studies underwater geology. He says improvements have been made in exploration and drilling.

"I would argue that those technologies have not been made absolutely safe, so there is always going to be some risk of technological failure as we have seen several times in the Gulf of New Mexico," Dr. Alexander said.

Something like that would be a disaster to Georgia's fishing and shrimping industries, as well as tourism. Alexander also says that the seismic exploration that uses huge air guns could also pose a risk.

"We know that there are documented impacts on marine mammals and there is some suggestion that there might be impacts on lower level organisms as well," he said.

Even though you probably wouldn't be able to see any rigs from the beach, Dr. Alexander says there would need to be infrastructure in place on shore to support the drilling that is done.

"So we would be looking at pipelines going across the shelf, processing storage, redistribution facilities along the shoreline, which really can affect the quality of life and the quality of the environment as well," he said.

"We don't need that oil. Most of it would be exported out of our country," said Lisa Ring, (D) Georgia, 1st District candidate. "So, it is strictly for profit by the fossil fuel industry that our shores would be drilled."

Democrat Lisa Ring, who is running against Buddy Carter in the first district that includes all of Georgia's coastline, says clean, renewable energy sources would also create jobs and energy independence.

"We really can't be living in the past any longer. If we want energy independence, we can certainly have energy independence, but we can do it in a way that is responsible to the planet and to this district," Ring said.

"I can remember a time when the Middle East literally had us over a barrel and were holding us hostage because of our energy needs," Congressman Carter said. "We should never let that happen again. By looking at it, studying it, having a conversation about the pros and cons, we can make an intelligent decision on what we want to do."

Congressman Carter says he is working on trying to make a public hearing happen in our area, but right now, the only one in the state is Wednesday night - more than 250 miles away in Atlanta.

While the final decision on offshore drillings rests with the federal government, Governor Deal says he thinks, in most cases, the state's request would be honored.

We'll let you know when the decision comes down.

Copyright 2018 WTOC. All rights reserved.