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Water council member discusses offshore exploration, drilling
Phil Odums comments on off-shore expl  drilling 002-1
Phil Odom, Liberty Regional Water Planning Council member, talks about the pros and cons of offshore exploration and drilling. - photo by Randy C.Murray

Oil exploration and drilling off Georgia’s coast present both pros and cons, a McIntosh community resident says.

“About 35 years ago, it came to my attention there was a potential for oil and gas deposits under the South Atlantic bight,” said Phil Odom, a member of the Liberty and Coastal Georgia Regional water planning councils. “We’ve never had any seismic testing to tell us how to get to it.

Odom, who also is a commissioner with the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, was reacting to an open house “scoping” meeting on offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast, held March 24 at the Savannah Hyatt Regency by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

 “I don’t particularly like using 20th-century techniques to generate sound waves to penetrate the ground,” Odom said. “As a scuba diver, I can tell you sound really does amplify under water. You can hear a big ocean-going ship miles away when you’re in 120 feet of water.”

He said he didn’t attend the meeting and acknowledged that he didn’t fully understand the newest seismic survey technology, which he believes harms the ecosystem and marine life.

William Y. Brown, the bureau’s chief environmental officer, agreed that some people are concerned about the use of air-gun seismic surveys that would be used to find potential deposits of oil and natural gas offshore. However, the bureau determined in its preliminary impact statement and in the 2014 Science Note there is no demonstrated link of man-induced sound “masking” communication between marine animals or otherwise affecting mammal populations.

The meeting allowed members of the public to express their concerns about offshore exploration via seismic surveys and possible offshore drilling.

“What we’re addressing is a five-year program,” Brown said during the meeting. “It’s a federal statute that mandates the bureau prepare five-year programs for lease sales for exploration and potentially for drilling on the outer continental shelf. We’re currently in a program from 2012-2017… (The 2017-2022 program) includes 15 (potential) lease sales, and one of them includes the Atlantic.”

Brown said that if the one-year permits are issued, companies conducting the seismic surveys would have to cease all survey activities whenever large marine animals are noted to be in the survey area, which would be at least 50 miles offshore from the Atlantic coast.

“I understand they want to fit (their seismic surveys) into the migratory habits of (marine animals like the right whale, dolphins and sea turtles),” Odom said. “We have huge populations of aquatic animals that go from the Gulf of Mexico to Nova Scotia twice a year.”

Savannah-area businessman Martin Sullivan and Hunter R. Hopkins, the executive director of the Georgia Petroleum Council, both support offshore exploration and drilling for oil and gas.

While understanding the concerns some may have about the risk to marine life, they say offshore exploration would determine the resources that are there, and offshore drilling would bring jobs to this state and help make the country energy independent.

Although he has reservations about the technology, Odom sees yet another benefit to seismic testing offshore.

“As a member of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and Coastal Georgia Water Planning Council, I’d love to use seismic testing to understand the top 5,000 feet where all five layers where water-bearing limestone are found,” he said. “We don’t have a clear picture of what the aquifers — including our Floridan aquifer — look like. That’s a positive side. If we go searching for oil, we’ll find out the limits of our water-bearing rock.”

Odom was more stoic when he came to his opinion of offshore drilling. He said with every reward, there are risks, noting that the disastrous oil spill from BP’s Deepwater Horizon in 2010 was the result of relying on faulty data when they started drilling.

“The BP (disaster) proved it’s not in a corporation’s best interest to have an accident,” he said, explaining the $42 billion BP has already paid out may increase by another $18 billion when fines are assessed for violation of the 1972 Clean Water Act. “Do you really think they’re going to go out there and drill and take a risk of losing billions of dollars?

Brown said last week’s meeting was the last opportunity for stakeholders — businesses and coastal residents — to express their areas of concern. Public comments received will be used by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a Department of Interior agency, to develop its Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

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