010618_Drilling

An offshore oil drilling platform off the coast of California is seen in 2009.

AP/File

As the Trump administration continues its bit-by-bit deconstruction of the Obama administration’s regulatory legacy, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Thursday the intention to open up 90 percent of offshore territory controlled by the United States for oil and gas exploration — that would include all of the Georgia coast.

“Today’s announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period,” Zinke said in a statement. “Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks.”

Previously, such outer continental shelf oil and gas leasing was banned under a moratorium imposed by the Obama administration. However, should the new plan go forward, it would allow lease sales for fossil fuel exploration off the Georgia coast to be held in 2020, 2022 and 2024. Municipalities including Brunswick, Kingsland, St. Marys, Savannah, Tybee Island and others passed resolutions more than a year ago opposing offshore drilling and the underwater seismic testing that leads up to it.

“Offshore drilling threatens local communities, economies and everything that makes the South a special place,” Sierra Weaver, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement. “In 2016, Southern communities along the Atlantic coast successfully fought off an attempt to bring offshore drilling to their coasts, and they will do the same again.”

According to Georgia environmental advocacy organization One Hundred Miles, the plan offers little benefit — estimated reserves of 410 million barrels, or eight months worth — with significant possible harm.

“Our Georgia coast is part of some of the most productive waters on the East Coast for commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as marine mammals and endangered sea turtles,” said Alice Keyes, OHM associate director, in a statement. “The critically endangered North Atlantic right whale is of particular concern, as the species experienced a significant die-off in summer 2017 and cannot withstand additional threats to its population without risking extinction.

“These creatures are unique in and of themselves, but they support Georgia’s robust ocean economy, which hosts about 24,000 jobs, provides residents with nearly $600 million in wages, and contributed more than a billion dollars to our state’s economy, from 2012 estimates.”

A widely reported study in June in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution showed data indicated seismic airgun blasting that precede drilling has significant, detrimental impacts to sea life up and down the food chain, which could lead to not only evident problems within those ecosystems, but to commercial and recreational fishing enterprises. Organizations representing the petrochemical industry and the people who conduct such testing flatly deny such claims.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1, who multiple times said he is committed to an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, sent a letter to Walter Cruikshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, looking for clarity on the BOEM proposal.

“While I applaud the Trump administration for moving forward with a plan to increase America’s energy independence, I am committed to ensuring any moves are made in the best interest of the 1st District,” Carter said in a statement. “This starts with having an open and honest discussion here on the coast where Coastal Georgians can ask questions and let their voices be heard. I will absolutely be helping to facilitate this meeting and I will stay in contact with BOEM until it happens.”

He said job creation was in the best interest of the district in February 2016 when Carter spoke to The News. He said then that oil exploration and drilling off Georgia’s coast could create more than 5,000 jobs in the state and raise more than $700 million by 2035 with revenue sharing in place.

“This could create good paying, long lasting jobs for our area and have ripple effects as more people come to work in the new industry,” Carter said at the time.

There are no public meetings scheduled within an hour drive of Brunswick or Savannah. There is a public meeting scheduled for Feb. 28 in Atlanta, one Feb. 8 in Tallahassee, Fla., and one Feb. 13 in Columbia, S.C. All 23 scheduled meetings are in state capitals — with the exception of the Washington, D.C. meeting — regardless of the how far those cities are from their respective state coastlines.

Public comment online does not open until Monday. For more information, head to boem.gov/national-ocs- program.

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