A week or two ago, I saw some pictures of U. S. Senator Saxby Chambliss touring an ethanol refinery in south Georgia. At the time, I was encouraged to see some Republicans apparently supporting the exploration (and hopefully eventual implementation) of alternative fuels. There has been so much discussion about how Georgia is perfectly suited to jump into such an endeavor and the potential economic and environmental effects it would have. We already possess much of the needed infrastructure via our farm industry to become a national leader in this area. Added to that, most experts agree that our fossil fuels addiction is a major component in our ever increasing environmental problems. All of this makes it hard for me to understand why 3 of our state's leaders wish to lift the offshore drilling ban.
David Kyler, executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, has this to say in an op ed piece in today's Athens Banner-Herald:
Last month's spill of thousands of gallons of oil along Georgia's Savannah River, which degraded water quality and harmed wildlife, is an unfortunate but enlightening example at a time when offshore oil and gas development is being unwisely supported by our state officials.
As suggested by this relatively small oil spill, risks of larger fossil-fuel related industrial accidents or natural events, either offshore or shoreside, could bring catastrophic worst-case scenarios. These would include sustained damage to estuaries, with corresponding loss of fisheries - both commercial and recreational. Coastal tourism also would plummet, with severe economic consequences.
In spite of such risks, Georgia Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss have consistently voted to lift the 25-year ban against offshore drilling, and U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., recently chimed in harmony with them. Likewise, Georgia's draft State Energy Plan includes a statement supporting development of fossil fuels offshore.
Such positions seem willfully ignorant in light of major issues that neighboring states clearly acknowledge. Congressional representatives and senators from both parties in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina have voiced strong opposition to offshore oil and gas development, citing risks to coastal economic and environmental interests that far outweigh any benefits.
Despite the results of past exploration off Georgia's shore in the late 1970s, when geologists found little reason to think recoverable reserves were available, both the price of fuel and advancements in technology might seem to be cause for reconsideration. However, numerous reports conclude that even the most optimistic estimates of offshore reserves nationally would fall far short of rapidly expanding demand. By the time any of these reserves were made available, we would be even more dependent on foreign sources of oil and gas than we are now.
Once the offshore ban was lifted, any recoverable energy resources that were found would then be "developed." This would include installation and use of massive industrial equipment, shoreside facilities, and - potentially - onshore energy processing, including oil refinement, which is among the most undesirable of all industries. The creation or expansion of industrial operations would have disruptive consequences for both water resources and the native landscape - both of which are essential to coastal Georgia's nature-based economy - worth more than $1 billion annually and supporting some 40,000 jobs.
Offshore fossil fuel development is a precarious policy that wouldn't pass any reasonable evaluation of the public interest test. As an alternative to disruptive exploration, drilling, production and distribution, new and cleaner energy technologies could be put online that would far out-produce conventional sources - provided investors were given comparable subsidies and tax benefits under state and federal policies.
For example, in a single year using existing technologies, enough wind-powered energy generators could be installed to produce more electricity than the average U.S. nuclear power plant. Fiber-based ethanol also is a highly promising alternative to gasoline, with tremendous economic prospects for Georgia's agriculture and timber industries.
Instead of advancing these promising new alternatives, our leadership is taking us in the direction of obsolete technologies with still more risks to the environment and public health. Moreover, generating electricity using fossil fuel resources requires large amounts of water for processing and cooling, which would further compound Georgia's water management problems.
As we face the widely predicted prospect of major coastal storms of greater intensity and frequency, any development of such facilities on our coast would cause greater hazards from such events. By locating major energy facilities in harm's way, hurricane storm surges and winds would likely inflict even more destruction - with threatening implications for communities, water quality, nature-based businesses and wildlife habitat.
It's time for Georgians to speak out on these critical energy issues. If conventional thinking is allowed to prevail, promising new energy technologies will be further delayed in providing their obvious benefits. And ill-considered fossil fuel development offshore will impose unjustified threats on property, income and quality of life.
Our rapidly growing state deserves a more thoughtful, responsible approach to energy policy.