Advocates for energy say offshore drilling is now safest it’s ever been and rigs would likely not be seen from shoreline
Geophysical contractor says seismic testing won’t hurt marine life
Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic alliance says the jobs that drilling could bring mostly won’t be local, the revenue will only come with an act of Congress
The last survey of the mid-Atlantic coast revealed a subterranean pocket that could hold 8 million to 9 billion barrels of oil and natural gas – a reserve mighty enough to power the entire state of South Carolina for 67 years, according to a lead geologist for Shell Oil Co.
To the oil and gas industry the pocket became a potential liquid gold mine that up until recently was off-limits. With the window to its exploration opening, the pocket’s potential existence emerged as a threat to coastal advocates against offshore drilling.
Briarcliffe Acres last week became the latest municipality to pass a resolution against offshore drilling, joining 23 other S.C. coastal towns including Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach in a stance against oil exploration.
Opponents have lobbied against drilling and exploration, resurrecting images of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which they say can happen here if a deepwater rig is on the way. The exploration and drilling would hurt marine life and mar the coastlines and kill the $18 billion tourism industry on the state’s coast, they said.
But representatives of Shell Oil, ION Geophysical Corp. and Consumer Energy Alliance told a small group in a Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce conference room Thursday that much has changed since Deepwater Horizon. They said tapping into the oil could keep jobs at home, bring billions to the state, won’t be seen from the coast and the whole process is safer now.
Drilling would have to occur at least 50 miles offshore, said Gary Steffen, senior geological adviser and lead geologist for Shell, and most of the operation would be underwater.
Ruth Perry, a marine biologist for the company, used an interactive slide to show the crowd that a person standing on the beach would not be able to see any signs of it at that distance. Although wind turbines – if also deployed – would be visible.
SEISMIC HAS GONE ON SUCCESSFULLY AND EFFICIENTLY AROUND THE GLOBE FOR MANY, MANY YEARS WITHOUT ANY HARM TO MARINE LIFE. THAT’S SOMETHING WE’D LIKE TO MAKE SURE PEOPLE ARE CLEAR ON AND THAT THE CURRENT PRACTICES THAT ARE OUT THERE ARE EFFECTIVE, THEY ARE SAFE.
Shawn Rice, vice president of operations for ION Geophysical Corp.
Regarding safety, Shell Petroleum Engineer Peter Velez said the industry may be safer now than it’s ever been. He said that more than 60 new regulatory requirements were put in place to prevent spills and blowouts after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
“No one in the industry really wants an accident to happen,” he said. To prevent that, he said, the process now includes third-party safety and environmental management audits, new blowout-preventers, stricter certifications and inspections, improved equipment, well control technology improvements and more safety checkpoints.
The Stop Offshore Drilling for oil and gas in the Atlantic alliance, a bipartisan grassroots effort to keep offshore drilling away from South Carolina shores, doubts the safety claim.“Equipment planned for use in drilling in the Atlantic is nearly identical to that used in the Gulf (of Mexico),” the group states on its website. “Deepwater Horizon sat 45 miles offshore, 5,000 feet above the ocean floor, with drilling capability to 18,000 feet. Seismic results may argue for deeper drilling in the Atlantic.”
The deeper the well, the greater the risk, opponents say on the site. “Eleven people (were) killed in the (Deepwater Horizon) explosion that could be seen 45 miles away,” according to SODA. “Well flowed unchecked for 87 days. Oil slick covered 29,000 square miles, just shy of South Carolina’s 32,000 (square miles).”
The impact of that disaster killed thousands of animals, according to the site. Opponents have also stated their fears of how the seismic testing with air cannons will harm marine life. Shawn Rice, vice president of operations for ION Geophysical Corp., said that seismic testing has also been shown to not hurt marine life as others have said.
Rice told the crowd Thursday that they use soundwaves to obtain their subsurface images, relating the technique to taking “an ultrasound of the earth.”
He said the “acoustic pulses” of air released into the water – described by others as “seismic cannons” and “as loud as 100 jet engines” – are operating with pressures similar to that of pressure washers.
Then, Rice showed the crowd a slide of statements from representatives of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and other groups saying there has been no documented scientific evidence the testing harms marine life.
And if any marine life is seen in the area of their tests, Rice says they shut down the system and wait for the marine life to leave before cranking it back up. The regulatory process takes about 12-18 months, he said, just for the testing and the process comes with a “number of public comment periods” along the way.
“Seismic has gone on successfully and efficiently around the globe for many, many years without any harm to marine life,” said Rice, who sits on the board of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors. “That’s something we’d like to make sure people are clear on and that the current practices that are out there are effective, they are safe.”
Rice said they have tested daily in the waters off of the Gulf of Mexico for the last four years and notes the area still has healthy marine life and a robust tourism industry.
Michael Whatley, executive vice president of the energy lobbying firm Consumer Energy Alliance, said the offshore venture could bring added revenue to the state and extra jobs.
“We want to see American energy developed,” he said. “The oil and gas that are developed for the U.S. have tremendous economic benefits. What we’re looking at in terms of the Atlantic block could create 280,000 jobs nationally and it could create 35,000 jobs annually by 2035 in South Carolina, alone, $15.5 billion in industry spending in this state by 2035.
“What we’re looking at as a result of that spending here in this state would be $2.7 billion increase in annual GDP, $1.7 billion in tax revenue would be generated by government at all levels in South Carolina,” he continued. “In addition to that, if federal shared legislation is enacted, similar to what we have in the Gulf of Mexico right now and those fields are developed, you’re looking at hundreds of millions of dollars on an annual basis in non-taxed revenue that would come into the state of South Carolina.”
The SODA alliance doubts the jobs will really be local and says the wealth of money the state is expected to get will only come if revenue sharing legislation for the state is passed in Congress.
But Steffen said the data they have on the potential pocket of oil and gas in the Atlantic is “30-40 years old.”
“The issue now is we need to have better data to make a better estimate of whether or not there is 8-9 billion barrels of oil” out there, he said.
Reach Weaver: 843-444-1722; @TSNEmily