Editor's note: This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An article about the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's "scoping" meeting on offshore drilling held March 24 in Savannah incorrectly characterized the 50-mile buffer. That buffer is only for exploration off the Atlantic coast, not other coasts such as the Gulf of Mexico or Alaska. Also, the term “Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement” was incorrectly stated in the article.
One of the last federal open house “scoping” meetings on offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast, held Tuesday in Savannah, drew a handful of people seeking information or expressing their views.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held the meeting at the Hyatt Regency.
Among those attending the supporters of offshore drilling, including Savannah-area businessman Martin Sullivan, who said he supported both the exploration and future drilling because of the jobs it would bring to Georgia.
Hunter R. Hopkins, the executive director of the Georgia Petroleum Council, also supports exploration and off-shore drilling.
“We’re very interested in seeing what resources we have off the Atlantic coast,” he said. “It’s been over three decades since anybody has been off the coast doing any type of surveying. … We think that oil and natural gas extraction off the Georgia coast could benefit the entire state.”
Hopkins said his group attended the meeting to talk about the seismic surveys and the concerns some people have that this technology could harm marine life.
Chief Environmental Officer William Y. Brown said the scoping meeting allowed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to receive public comments to help develop a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.
“What we’re addressing is a five-year program,” Brown said. “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.”
He explained that the Atlantic region includes an area 50 miles offshore from New Jersey south to northern Florida.
Tuesday’s meeting was an opportunity for stakeholders — businesses and coastal residents — to express their areas of concern by providing comments in writing or through the bureau’s website at www.boemoceaninfo.com.
The meeting consisted of six information stations where BOEM staff members responded to questions. Station 3, for example, included maps depicting the Southeast with information about the proposed actions for the offshore leasing program and how public comments would be used to develop the impact statement. The next station provided an overview of the National Environmental Policy Act.
Other topics addressed included the outer continental shelf, which typically begins three nautical miles off the coast. Stakeholders also heard an explanation of a lease sale — the transfer of rights to apply for authorization to explore and develop mineral resources within a leased area.
Brown said BOEM’s initial draft plan excluded the first 50 miles off the coast so there would be less risk to large marine mammals such as right whales, dolphins and sea turtles. Of particular concern to some people is the use of air-gun seismic surveys that would be used to find potential deposits of oil and natural gas offshore.
He said BOEM determined in its preliminary impact statement and in the 2014 Science Note that there is no demonstrated link of man-induced sound “masking” communication between marine animals or affecting mammal populations.
“It’s not a new technology,” Brown said. “These seismic surveys use air guns that shoot bubbles into the sea. The sound travels down and penetrates the rock under the sea. It refracts, and the sound is picked up by microphones. … The technology has been improving, but it’s been around for decades.”
BOEM public affairs specialist Marjorie Krome Weisskohl said 10 companies have applied for a permit to conduct exploration on the Atlantic coast. The decision on whether to issue permits will be made in the next three months, she said.
Brown added that the permits would be good for one year, giving companies time to halt seismic activity whenever large mammals are determined to be in the area of their vessel.