For a major governmental public hearing on a topic of significant interest to coastal residents, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management put its offshore drilling meeting Wednesday evening at a place removed — the Renaissance Concourse Atlanta Airport Hotel, around 300 miles from Brunswick and around 250 miles from Savannah.
Regardless, estimates provided showed around 60-80 people took part in the event.
“One Hundred Miles and Environment Georgia and the Surfrider Foundation had a resource room in the same hotel where the public meeting was held,” said Alice Keyes, vice president for OHM. “And so, while we were there, we had probably 30 or 40 advocates opposing oil and gas development come to our resource room, pick up some material and go down to information session. We wanted to make sure that people were equipped with information before they went down and started engaging with the BOEM staff members.”
However, the event was not a public meeting in the same fashion that government officials arrive too hear the opinions and ideas of residents affected. This, instead, was a multi-station format in which officials were sent to provide information to the public more than receive it.
BOEM also set up a “virtual meeting room” online — boem.gov/national-program-virtual-room — that mirrors what people see in-person at these BOEM meetings in capital cities of coastal states. At the end, people are prompted to enter in their comments through the online method. As of press time Friday, BOEM received nearly 485,000 comments regarding opening up the vast majority of the U.S. coast offshore drilling.
“The (BOEM employees at the stations) were very nice that were there, but they had a script that they were allowed to follow,” Keyes said.
A number of industry advocates were on hand as well, like representatives from the Consumer Energy Alliance and the Georgia Petroleum Council.
Hunter Hopkins, executive director of the council, said he spent around an hour and a half between the stations and talking with BOEM staff and attendees, and said he felt the people from BOEM knew of what they spoke.
“If you had a particular question about certain issues, you could really bore down into the details with some of those folks,” Hopkins said. "They were very knowledgable about the issues. And then you kind of went station to station because, if you had a concern about one thing, you could spend more time at that station, and then at the end they gave you the opportunity to submit comments.”
He said that while it did not have the public forum setup that some people may have wanted, it was a good, educational hearing to find more information about the Trump administration’s five-year plan for offshore energy exploration.
“I know there were other people in there who were taking their time, moving through each station and talking to the BOEM representatives, so, if anybody had any questions or concerns, I figured they would be able to get them answered or get them addressed there,” Hopkins said.
BOEM will continue to receive comments through March 9.