A draft plan from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Managememt would open a large stretch of the Atlantic Coast, from Georgia to Virginia, to oil drilling. The plan, released on Tuesday, calls for selling leases in an area of Federal waters 50 miles from land. Oil companies buying the leases could then explore and drill for oil and natural gas.
This region of the Atlantic is crucial to many species that would be jeopardized by drilling. As National Geographic Reports, these waters play host to many animals, including the endangered right whale, many marine birds, and scores of aquatic wildlife. The right whale, which uses the waters near Georgia for calving, is Georgia’s official marine mammal.
Georgia’s terrestrial environment is also at stake. Offshore drilling typically requires significant onshore infrastructure, including shorebases, pipelines, and distribution facilities, and despite the leases being located 50 miles offshore, drilling there would still threaten the land with oil spills.
Georgia is particularly vulnerable. While only possessing about 100 miles of coastline, Georgia nevertheless boasts 1/3 of the salt marshes on the Atlantic coast, and Georgia has the most pristine barrier islands anywhere. These marshes provide vital habitat for birds, fish, shellfish, and other important plants and animals, and they are more biologically productive than the most fertile farm land. The barrier islands protect coastal communities from the ravaging effects of storm surges and flooding. With so many natural treasures in one small place, the development of the oil and gas industry in Georgia would be especially devastating.
A 60-day public comment period opened with the announcement of the plan. For information on how to comment and where to attend public hearings, visit the BOEM’s website.