Will there be drilling on Georges Bank?
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Photo 1 of 2 | View Enlarged Photo [IMG]http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=CC&Date=20080621&Category=NEWS&ArtNo=806210320&Ref=AR&maxH=230&maxW=370&border=0&Q=80&cb=20080621012300[/IMG] The Alaskan Star drilling rig operates on Georges Bank in 1983. None of the test wells drilled in the early 1980s found significant fossil-fuel deposits.File photo 1 of 3 clicks used. Register for up to 10 free clicks per month.
By Patrick Cassidy [B]firstname.lastname@example.org[/B] June 21, 2008 It has been nearly three decades since oil companies last dug into Georges Bank southeast of Nantucket.
The eight test wells drilled into the submerged glacial bump in 1981 and 1982 came up dry. At the time, environmentalists and fishermen vigorously opposed continued exploration, a fight that led to a ban on offshore drilling that spread down the East Coast and west to the Pacific.
[li]Lawmakers vow to protect Georges Bank[/li][li]Georges Bank oil drilling banned in bill[/li][/ul]
[IMG]http://static.djlmgdigital.com/cct/capecodonline/graphics/icons/icon_photo.gif[/IMG] Related Photo Galleries
[li]George Bank Drilling Rig Photos[/li][/ul]
[li]Formed in the last ice age, 12,000 to 14,000 years ago[/li][LIST]
[li]16,000 square miles[/li][li]10 to 30 feet of water depth along “central crest,” sloping off to 600 feet deep on edges[/li][li]Located 40 to 200 miles off Cape Cod[/li][li]1 million tons of fish caught at height of foreign fishing operations in 1973, before U.S. marine territory was extended to 200 miles from shore[/li][/ul]
Source: NOAA scientist Michael Fogarty
But with President Bush's call this week to lift the drilling moratorium on the Outer Continental Shelf and the country facing high gas prices, future plans for Georges Bank may, again, hang in the balance.
“We don’t even want to open that door, particularly in Georges Bank,” Peter Schelley, vice president at the Conservation Law Foundation, said yesterday.
The area is too valuable as a fishery and marine life habitat to risk, Schelley said.
Although Georges Bank may not be the first place companies would look for new offshore oil or natural gas deposits, they would come eventually if given the chance, said Michael Gravitz, oceans advocate for Environment America, a research and policy center associated with the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups.
“The seismic tools that they have today are just a world apart from what they had 25 years ago,” Gravitz said. “My guess is they’d be interested in going out there again.”
But any oil found in U.S. waters would not bring down the price of gas significantly or quickly, Gravitz said.
Oil companies expressed cautious optimism about the prospect of opening up more areas offshore for exploration and development leases.
“Obviously, we’re pleased at the first steps,” said Judy Penniman, a spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association that represents oil companies.
It would likely be seven to 10 years before any production drilling took place if the moratorium is lifted, Penniman said. Individual states would have the power to veto drilling, she said.
Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration wants “no part” of drilling on Georges Bank, Robert Keough, spokesman for the state Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said in a telephone message left for the Times.
“Massachusetts fought the idea of offshore drilling 30 years ago,” Keough said. “It was a bad idea then and a bad idea now.”
“Then” was 1979, when a handful of oil interests bought more than $800 million in leases on Georges Bank through the U.S. Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service.
A series of wells drilled about 125 miles off Nantucket to depths up to 20,000 feet found nothing, although a report from the MMS indicated natural gas may be found deeper.
Opportunity knocksSome companies that drilled in the area no longer exist, but the ones that do are actively seeking new opportunities.
“I think it’s safe to say that we’re always looking for new prospective areas that are opened up,” said Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for Exxon-Mobil.
Before the companies merged, Exxon and Mobil both drilled test wells on Georges Bank, along with Shell, Conoco and two other energy firms.
Those leases are no longer active, according to Caryl Fagot, an MMS spokeswoman.
Jeffers and other oil company representatives would not say whether Georges Bank was in their sights.
“We don’t know,” said Mickey Driver, a spokesman for Chevron. “We would have to look at the data.”
Chevron has drilling platforms off the eastern coast of Canada, but America’s northern neighbor also has a moratorium in place on its portion of Georges Bank.
“We need all the energy we can produce everywhere we can produce it in every form,” Driver said. “There’s no silver bullet.”
Companies such as Chevron have diversified and invested in wind, solar and geothermal projects, he said. But for now, with the United States consuming 20 million barrels of oil every day, drilling for crude remains definitely part of the mix, he said.
“It’s going to be oil today, tomorrow, 10 weeks and 10 years from now.”
Most of that oil comes from outside the United States, he said, adding that finding new deposits is the only way to meet future demand.
Fishermen tornThe reaction from local fishermen yesterday was mixed.
“The system that’s out there is unique in the world,” Jim Kendall, owner of New Bedford Seafood Consulting, said of Georges Bank. “We don’t really know what the outcomes of a disaster out there would be.”
Kendall fished Georges Bank when test wells were in place decades ago. He recalled boats catching nets on drilling equipment after they were supposedly removed.
The area poses challenges to fishermen even without man-made obstructions, he said.
Chatham fisherman John Our is more open to exploiting Georges Bank for energy.
“They could drill in Chatham harbor right now,” he said, adding that anything to bring down fuel prices that are hurting the fishing industry would be welcome.
Our, who used to fish on Georges Bank but now stays closer to shore, said he especially feels bad for boats out of New Bedford, which can spend $50,000 on fuel for a single trip.
But Our expressed skepticism that drilling at Georges Bank would put a dent in his diesel fuel costs.
“How many rigs can you put out there realistically?” he said.