U.S. Govt to Initiate Oil Drilling Discussion

Environmentalists in Brunswick and the Golden Isles say that allowing drilling for oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the United States is a bad idea.

But U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-1, thinks it is an idea that not only needs to be explored, but dug into.

The long standing difference of opinion between pro- and anti-drilling forces is arising again after U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said this week that he is ready to begin an environmental analysis that could lead to drilling in areas up to 200 miles offshore in the Atlantic.

"From a conservation standpoint, from an environmental standpoint, I would have to oppose something like that," said Altamaha Riverkeeper James Holland, who is the top staff member of the environmental watchdog group based in Darien.

Salazar said a 45-day comment period on a planned study to determine how drilling would affect the ocean floor will start soon. He said information the federal government has on the Outer Continental Shelf is outdated because of a long-standing moratorium on oil and gas exploration there. That includes estimates on how much gas and oil might be under water.

For Holland, drilling for oil off Georgia would pose a danger to the environment and the state's seafood industry.

"I'd hate to see crude oil come spilling up on our beaches right now," he said. "That's my concern. Our fishing, shrimping and crabbing are so fragile, anyway. An oil spill would really do damage to us."

David Kyler, executive director of Center for Sustainable Coast, based on St. Simons Island, is also among those who are against offshore drilling.

"... (S)uch an illusory remedy for oil supply will slow America's urgently needed conversion to energy alternatives, some of which are immediately available and quite practical as investment choices. Prolonging the age of fossil fuels will only serve to constrain our potential as a country and as a species," he said.

Daniel Parshley of the Glynn Environmental Coalition shares that opinion. He said it's time for the nation to adopt a comprehensive energy policy that embraces diversification.

"Other nations are leaps and bounds ahead of us," he said. "They are not economically at the mercy of the price of oil."

With an estimated 18 billion barrels of oil and 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas untapped under the Outer Continental Shelf, drilling there is something that needs to be done, Kingston said.

Only about 41 million of the roughly 1.8 billion acres of federal offshore lands on the Outer Continental Shelf are currently leased for production.

"I think this is an essential step in energy independence and to stop the flow of dollars to unstable governments and anti-American governments in places like the Middle East and Venezuela," Kingston said. "Going about it cautiously to make sure the environment is not impacted is the proper thing to do."

Kingston said advanced technology would help ensure the safety of the environment.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Brunswick News, Ga. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.