Finish The Drill?

It’s as close to paradise as you can get and still be within the geographical confines of Georgia.

I am referring to the scenic beauty of our coast and its Golden Isles, one of the major attractions for tourists who visit our great state. If you are reading this column, you may even be one of those relaxing in a beach chair as the tide rolls out, or sitting at a marina sipping a tall, cool drink.

I envy you if that’s the case. As you’re watching the sun go down and feeling the coastal breezes blow in, just imagine how different the experience might be if, all of a sudden, there were oil drilling platforms scattered across the horizon and interfering with your view. Even worse – how might you feel if there was a spill at one of those platforms and a slick, black bog of oil was drifting inexorably toward your section of the beach?

That nightmare scenario, alas, is something that is being pushed upon Georgians by some of our political leadership.

One of the fast-developing issues of this election year has been a demand from some politicos for Congress to terminate a 27-year federal prohibition on oil and gas exploration off the Atlantic Coast.

In July, President George Bush lifted a presidential moratorium on offshore drilling and called on members of Congress to open additional areas for exploration.

Largely due to spikes in the price of gasoline at the pump and oil in the barrel, many politicians who once supported the ban on offshore drilling have flip-flopped, including presidential candidate John McCain.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss is sounding the loudest call to hit the beaches, proclaiming in a recent Senate floor speech that he wants the drilling to commence “whether it’s on the Outer Continental Shelf, whether it’s in the shale of the Rocky Mountains, or whether it is in ANWR of Alaska or other areas of the country.”

These demands for offshore drilling and exploration might make some sense if the coastal area contained the last remaining vestiges of oil and gas in the United States. But the evidence suggests that is not the case.

A congressional report released in June by the House Committee on Natural Resources disclosed that there is a huge amount of federal land where drilling permits have already been issued but no exploration has taken place.

I’ll quote from the report: “Between 1999 and 2007, the number of drilling permits issued for development of public lands increased by more than 361%, yet gasoline prices have also risen dramatically, contradicting the argument that more drilling means lower gasoline prices. There is simply no correlation between the two … .

“In the last four years, the Bureau of Land Management has issued 28,776 permits to drill on public land; yet, in that same time, 18,954 wells were actually drilled. That means that companies have stockpiled nearly 10,000 extra permits to drill that they are not using to increase domestic production.

“Further, despite the federal government’s willingness to make public lands and waters available to energy developers, of the 47.5 million acres of on-shore federal lands that are currently being leased by oil and gas companies, only about 13 million acres are actually ‘in production,’ or producing oil and gas. Similar trends are evident offshore as well, where only 10.5 million of the 44 million leased acres are currently producing oil or gas.

“Combined, oil and gas companies hold leases to nearly 68 million acres of federal land and waters that they are not producing oil and gas. Oil and gas companies would not buy leases to this land without believing oil and gas can be produced there, yet these same companies are not producing oil or gas from these areas already under their control.”

In other words, there’s a lot of federal land that the petroleum industry could be exploring before it ever turns its attention to the Georgia coast – we’re talking about millions of acres and thousands of drilling permits.

I know it’s a radical approach to try to bring “logic” and “facts” into a political argument, but the facts are that the oil and gas companies have a lot of wells they could be drilling right now on federal land.

It seems only logical to me that they should explore those properties first before they do something that threatens one of the crown jewels of Georgia.

Categories: Political Notes