Feds receive thousands of comments on Atlantic offshore exploration drilling

BRUCE SMITH, Associated Press

 Thousands of opinions poured in Monday as the deadline approached for commenting on the contentious issue of drilling for oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Thousands of opinions poured in Monday as the deadline approached for commenting on the contentious issue of drilling for oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was receiving comments through midnight Monday on what should be studied in an environmental impact statement of offshore drilling, which later this decade could include the Atlantic.

The agency earlier held public meetings along the coast. By early afternoon, its website showed almost 15,000 comments had been submitted, with more than 3,700 filed Monday alone.

Supporters said offshore drilling could mean thousands of jobs and new revenue. Opponents warned that spills could endanger fisheries and coastal tourism. Twenty communities in the Carolinas, including Charleston, are on record against drilling, seismic testing or both.

A sampling of the comments from the Carolinas:

THREATS TO WILDLIFE
Geoffrey Santoliquido of Cary, North Carolina, spends a month each year vacationing on the state's coast and said drilling causes him "grave concern." He wrote that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico "showed how devastating an oil disaster can be" with wetlands destroyed, and birds, sea mammals and turtles killed.

TOURISM AND DRILLING CAN COEXIST
"Myrtle Beach is a tourist destination and we rely on those tourists to support our community," noted James Condrey of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. "The fact that drilling rigs may eventually reside offshore, out of sight of land, will certainly not deter those tourists from coming to the area."

MORE RESEARCH
"More scientific study is needed to properly evaluate the impact of oil and gas exploration," commented Michael Bower of Wilmington, North Carolina. He said that should include modeling the Gulf Stream to determine where spilled oil could end up as well as studying the effect of spills on the state's estuaries.

TOURISM AND OIL DON'T MIX
Tim Cafferty of the Dare County Tourism Board on the Outer Banks said the board opposes drilling near an exposed area where one in three local jobs depends on tourism.

JOBS AND REVENUE
Hundreds of the comments were form documents submitted by those supporting offshore drilling. They noted that new energy sources from drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf and expanding drilling in the Gulf of Mexico could mean 280,000 new jobs and $24 billion for the economy.

SAFER FOOD
More energy sources would benefit South Carolina's farmers, wrote Cathy Novinger, the executive director of the Palmetto Agribusiness Council. Offshore fuel could reduce food costs and "discourage the importing of foods that are not as tightly regulated and therefore not as safe as what we can produce here," she wrote.

SPILLS THREATEN THE SEABOARD
After Deepwater Horizon "the world learned that there is no such thing as safe offshore oil drilling nor is there a guarantee of easy cleanup when a significant spill occurs," lawyers for the Southern Environmental Law Center wrote in comments being filed later Monday on behalf of 43 environmental groups from New Jersey to Georgia. They noted that the spill affected 650 miles of shoreline and closed a third of the Gulf to fishing and other activities.

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