Let coastal states drill offshore if they want to
July 17, 2008
Atlanta Gas Light
Suzanne Sitherwood for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Recent polls show a large majority of Americans, burdened by $4 gasoline and tired of foreign energy dependence, want to encourage domestic exploration and drilling for oil and natural gas.
While the United States constitutes 5 percent of the world's population, we consume 25 percent of the world's oil and 45 percent of its gasoline. Energy, energy infrastructure and technology have been the strength of our economy and helped maintain our standard of living. While conserving energy resources and the continuing development of alternative and renewable energy sources are important to us and the generations to come, renewable energy is not ready to replace fossil fuels in the short term. In the U.S., alternative and renewable energy accounts for only 6 percent of our nation's energy portfolio (almost all of that is hydroelectric).
This underscores why Congress must lift the 27-year-old federal moratorium on energy exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf, an area that extends some 200 miles off our coastlines.
While some argue that we don't want to see exploration in these pristine areas, the fact is that with today's technology, we can sensitively explore through directional drilling about 30,000 acres of surface lands with a single well. Isn't that a bargain when you calculate the cost to Americans to continue to rely on energy overseas, especially the volatile Mideast?
We are currently exploring in just one narrowly defined area in the Gulf of Mexico. This is where 90 percent of Georgia's natural gas comes from -- a commodity open to the unpredictability of the storms that occur. So why rule out exploring the rest of the Atlantic? Or all of the Pacific and the coast of Alaska? Offshore oil and natural gas production operations have a long history of environmentally sensitive and safe performance. No other nation in the world has such fertile offshore resources yet rules them off limits.
Many experts believe natural gas will replace oil and coal by 2025 as the leading source of energy in the country. This is largely due to new stringent clean air standards. Natural gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, with 45 percent less carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than coal and 30 percent less than oil.
States ought to be able to determine for themselves whether or not to allow offshore drilling. As a coastal state, Georgia's voice can weigh heavily in the national debate over energy policy. While we do not know what resources are readily available off Georgia's coast, if any, we must join with other coastal states in advocating for increased access to offshore drilling. Each state should be free to drill or not drill. States that allow coastal energy production should also receive a fair share in the revenues generated from the offshore leases.
Our energy scarcity is not physical, but political. It should be unacceptable to every American worried about rising gasoline costs that we are rich in both energy sources and the technology to develop them and continue to do nothing. Foreign nations where we obtain energy do not have the strong environmental regulations that we do -- and the environment is more damaged in their processes than would be the case here. In this context, Americans can do the job safely -- and Congress should permit our coastal states to do it.
Suzanne Sitherwood is president of Atlanta Gas Light.