Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Georgia lawmakers: Drill, baby, drill

Posted By on Wed, Feb 18, 2009 at 8:39 PM

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The Commies may have bested us in the space race, but state Rep. Tim Bearden will be damned — damned, I say — if he'll let them drill for oil first.

Yesterday, a House Energy Subcommittee convened to hear House Resolution 32, a piece of legislation penned by the Republican lawmaker from Douglasville that urges Gov. Sonny Perdue to begin leasing land off Georgia's coast so private companies could dri— oops, sorry, "explore" — for oil and natural gas.

The bill's message is one near and dear to many lawmakers' — as well as some citizens' — hearts.

There are some hurdles, however. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently pulled the reins on a push to drill offshore. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says any oil tapped from the outer continental shelf wouldn't make an impact until 2030.

That's not stopping other countries from drilling, Bearden said.

"China is drilling off the coast of Cuba," he told his colleagues.

Well, maybe not. China isn't drilling off Cuba's coast. At least not just yet.

In a sleepy committee room packed with lobbyists and energy company executives, Bearden's resolution faced opposition from environmentalists. Shana Udvardy of the Georgia Conservancy urged the lawmakers to invest in renewable energy such as wind, solar and biomass, before it sullies its offshore resources. She said the risks, such as oil spills, upsetting ecosystems, outweigh the benefits — many of which wouldn't be available for quite some time — and could jeopardize the billion-dollar boost Georgia's coast provides the state and local economies.

One lawmaker said he recalled hearing that the caribou population near an Alaskan pipeline actually flourished once the oil-carrying artery was constructed. Udvardy replied that pipelines built from a drilling platform off Georgia's coast would be underwater and more prone to leaks.

Mark Woodall, a Sierra Club lobbyist, caught lawmakers' attention when he said that an oil spill off Georgia's coast could spell disaster for the Sea Island Company, which owns and operates the eponymous coastal resort, and Jekyll Island, a state park that's undergoing controversial redevelopment plans. Should a drilling operation cause an accident, Woodall warned, connections and investments in Sea Island and the Jekyll project could be in jeopardy.

Woodall said many energy experts think global oil production peaked decades ago. And as other nations become wealthier and more oil-dependent, he said, competition for the resource will be costly. He said the time to start exploring other energy resources is now.

"I don't think the quantity is out there that [drilling] would make any difference," Woodall said. "The Chinese and Indians aren't going back to bicycles. It's too late for that."

The subcommittee gave the resolution its seal of approval and sent it to full committee. State Rep. Harry Geisinger , R-Roswell, has a bill — which Bearden co-signed — that would allow the governor to inventory what, if any, oil or natural gas resources are available off the coast.

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

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