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Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 12:54pm

Offshore Oil Proposal Fuels Debate

Updated: 2 years ago.
Critics of a proposal to research oil and natural gas reserves off of Georgia's coast raised concerns about negative impacts the studies could have on marine wildlife, like the endangered right whale. (photo NOAA)

Federal officials want to know just how much oil and natural gas is off Georgia's coast.

They're proposing allowing new studies -- the first in decades. And it's fueling familiar arguments.

Richard Cobb of the Georgia Petroleum Council told officials at a public hearing in Savannah on Wednesday that developing such resources would make the country more energy-independent.

"We feel like we can drill in a safe manner and an environmentally sensitive manner," Cobb said. "Plus, it would bring jobs and money to Georgia."

But Savannah environmental activist Claudia Collier said, non-renewable energy sources aren't the answer.

"We have at least five areas out there on the shallow shelf that have designated as very promising for wind," Collier said. "And I just believe that once the East Coast is opened up to oil and gas, they will just take over and wind will go by the wayside."

Critics also cautioned officials about potential impacts the studies could have on marine wildlife.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management researchers have concluded that allowing the studies could have "moderate" impacts on ocean mammals, like North Atlantic right whales, who breed in South Georgia and North Florida waters in the winter.

The endangered species' population is estimated at 350 or 400.

The Savannah meeting was the second of eight to receive public comments about the draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Gary Goeke of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said, the Interior Department proposal would allow the first studies to look at oil and natural gas reserves in the South Atlantic in more than 20 years.

"There's a lot of discussion right now that goes on where a lot of people are talking without a lot of factual information," Goeke said. "This will allow us to get real, hard numbers to figure out what's out there."

Researchers spent a year working on the more than 1,000 page proposal.

The report details expected impacts from the exploration, including those on marine wildlife.

The research proposal's public comment period ends May 30th.

To access the draft PEIS, go to www.boem.gov/oil-and-gas-energy-program/GOMR/GandG.aspx

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