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Offshore oil: Seismic test ban seen as delay, rather than win, by opponents

By Jason Lesley

Local opponents of drilling for oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean say they will remain vigilant after seismic testing permits off the shores of the Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia were denied by the Obama Administration last week.

Still, members of the group Stop Oil Drilling in the Atlantic are celebrating their second victory in opposition to offshore drilling. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management declined to lease drilling sites in the Southern Atlantic last year, but companies were preparing to use seismic airgun blasting to survey the ocean floor for oil and gas deposits. The testing drew equally intense opposition.

“It’s best not to get giddy because it’s a delay in the process,” said Jim Watkins, a SODA organizer. “This certainly gives courage to folks who had been in the trenches on this and hopefully will educate more folks to get in with us and do what we can to save the South Atlantic.”

Watkins and a group of about 40 people opposed to offshore drilling were meeting at the Bunnelle Foundation last Wednesday when BOEM announced it would not allow seismic testing in the Atlantic. “We were all over the map in terms of politics,” Watkins said, “but one thing they all agree on is no oil drilling.”

Jean Marie Neal, SODA spokeswoman, said there was no need for testing in the Atlantic Ocean considering the current plan for offshore drilling. “The oil and gas industry reacted strongly to the permit denials because they believe seismic testing is the first step toward actual drilling,” she said. “It’s kind of a back-door approach by the industry. They will try again and again in this new administration and Congress to reverse the successes we had. Regretfully, the oil and gas industries spend a lot of money on members of Congress. We cannot match their money, but they cannot match our love and desire to protect our coast and its waters.”

Peg Howell, former head of an offshore oil rig, said SODA is better prepared to oppose offshore leasing when they are potentially offered again in five years.

“We had no idea of what we were doing in the beginning except sounding the alarm,” Howell said. “We have learned a lot in two years about how this happens in terms of how to talk with people who live here as well as our elected officials. Some of our most effective conversations have been in Washington. It seems they are not accustomed to having citizens show up and say they care deeply about something.”

Howell said SODA directors met this week and began developing plans to promote renewable energy. “We want people to understand we are not obstructionists,” she said. “The thing we are talking about is the most effective energy to use in this area where we live.”

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