Ga. lawmakers punt on protest of offshore oil drilling as historic oil lease goes to market in Gulf of Mexico

By David Pendered

As Georgia lawmakers defer voting on resolutions to oppose oil exploration and drilling off Georgia’s coast, on Wednesday the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in the nation’s history was conducted for most of the Gulf of Mexico.

jekyll island shrimp boats

Shrimp boats based out of Jekyll Island could share Georgia’s offshore waters with oil platforms under the current federal proposal on offshore drilling. Credit: Craig Tanner

BP submitted the most high bids, at 27 bids for a total of $20 million. Chevron followed BP, with 24 total high bids for a total of $29.5 million. The size of the territory put up for lease sale, about 77 million acres, is about equal to the state of New Mexico.

The lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico are part of President Trump’s effort to open most of the U.S. outer continental shelf to oil exploration and drilling — including the Arctic Ocean, but not waters off Florida. Trump proposal was released Jan. 4, and it included Georgia’s coastal waters in the planned oil exploration and drilling area, though they previously had been closed to such activities.

A group of Georgia lawmakers responded Feb. 5 by filing resolutions opposing oil activities of Georgia’s coast. The resolutions could still be passed, but that’s not expected given that the General Assembly is to meet just two more days before the legislative session is slated to end March 29.

Of note, the public comment period on Trump’s energy plan ended March 9. A second round of public comment is planned for sometime later this year, with the final proposal for offshore oil activities to be presented sometime in 2019, according to a statement from the Interior Department.

The resolutions pending before the Legislature, House Resolution 1041 and Senate Resolution 706, conclude with identical language:

  • “[T]he members of this body express their support for coastal Georgia tourism and fisheries and voice their opposition to oil exploration and drilling activities, including seismic testing, off of the Georgia coast.”

Gov. Nathan Deal has said he won’t opine on the potential of exploring or drilling off Georgia’s coast until a review is conducted by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. A DNR spokesperson said the review is underway and not yet complete.

gulf oil drilling

The U.S. Department of the Interior offered about 77.3 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for lease to oil companies, most of it in the western and central planning areas. The green dots represent active leases before bids were opened Wednesday. Credit: boem.gov

In the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Department of the Interior offered 77.3 million acres offshore of Texas, Louisiana Mississippi, Alabama and Florida for oil and gas exploration and drilling, according to a Feb. 16 statement. That’s about the size of New Mexico, which covers 77.6 million acres.

The leases lots are located from 3 miles to 231 miles offshore in water depths ranging from 9 feet to more than 11,115 feet, according to a statement from the Interior Department.

Most of the eastern portion of the gulf is not open to exploration or drilling, meaning the waters within 125 miles of the Florida coastline, according to a statement by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The sum of all bids submitted Wednesday was $139.1 million, according to a report from BOEM.

A total of 33 companies submitted bids, according to a BOEM report. Along with well known entities, such as BP and Chevron, are smaller companies including Focus Exploration, LLC that are in keeping with the wildcatters who developed the oil industry. Focus hangs its hat on its ability to find oil in areas where oil wouldn’t be expected or has already been played out. According to a page on its website, Focus uses electromagnetic imaging techniques that, “can reveal previously unseen potential in established production trends.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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