I recently had the pleasure of attending an Offshore Energy Conference to learn about the exploration and extraction of natural gas and oil from our OCS (Outer Continental Shelf). The Continental shelf is the area from the shoreline out to the edge of the slope that falls into the deep ocean, a distance of about 60 miles off of our coastline. The water depth on the shelf reaches about 100 feet. Evidently, based on past experience and ocean floor research, the most likely place to find oil and natural gas deposits is along the foot of the slope in deep water. The area of the OCS is slightly smaller than the onshore area of our state or about 19.3 million acres.
So what does this have to do with Georgetown County? The short answer is that with our natural port being the only centrally located port along our South Carolina coastline, other than Charleston which is concentrating on major import/export shipping, we are the logical place to be the center for exploration and extraction of natural gas and crude oil. Due to limitations on the length of this article, I cannot get into much detail, but over the coming months, we plan to share much more information about potential economic impact on our county and where we are in the process of production.
I do want to point out a few of the interesting and informative topics that were discussed. You should know that a recent survey determined that 77 percent of South Carolina voters are in favor of off-shore drilling. As for a time line, we are currently at the end, December 2013, of an environmental impact study being done by the Department of the Interior. If that goes well, Interior will allow seismic surveys to be conducted on the OCS. The last surveys were done 30 years ago, and with the advances in survey technology, it is expected that we will discover many more areas of interest. In the past, three in 10 exploration wells were successful, but with current two and three dimensional seismic survey techniques, the success ratio has jumped to seven in 10, saving millions of dollars. Once the survey phase is complete, the drilling and extraction phase can begin.
The leasing program by the Department of the Interior for the South Atlantic Region and the revenue sharing and leasing legislation by Congress for drilling will take place from 2017 through 2022. We can expect as many as 5,000 new jobs during the construction phase. I was also made aware of efforts by folks at the University of South Carolina to establish a new Earth and Ocean Sciences laboratory. What better place than Georgetown County given our natural port for easy access to the OCS, and our existing campuses: Horry Georgetown Tech. and Coastal Carolina.
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Something else that I found interesting is the fact that crude oil and natural gas are renewable resources. They are organic compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The temperatures and pressures found on the ocean floor provide an environment which transforms these elements into the hydrocarbons known as natural gas and crude oil. These compounds are being released naturally into our environment every day. Speaking of the environment, I need to share a few things that I learned on that subject. Will we see the drill rigs when they are actually in the drilling phase? An 80-foot. high platform would have to be within 15 miles of the coast before you could see it with binoculars because of the over the horizon/line of sight phenomenon and as I mentioned earlier, the probable places of interest will be at the slope 60 miles offshore.
What about accident risk mitigation? Since the Deepwater Horizon accident, the oil and gas industry has made significant progress in the area of Safety and Environmentally Responsible Operations. I will get into the details of that in another article, but as a technical guy, I was very impressed with the technological innovations that are currently available and what is being developed. Seabed production facilities and pipelines to carry product to shore or inland terminals will be a reality when the first wells are drilled. This means that there will be no structures on the surface once the well is drilled.
As I have explained, this will not happen over night, and there will be bridges to cross at the federal level before this can come to fruition, but I am very excited about what this can mean to our county. This undertaking will require a new work force ranging from PhD’s in science and engineering to deck hands on the support vessels working the rigs. Making this happen will not be easy. There is and will be a strong lobby by the hard core environmentalists’ to defeat our efforts to make this happen at the federal, state, and local level.
If you believe that drilling along the coast of South Carolina is good for the country, state, and Georgetown County; you had better be prepared to get personally involved and assist all of our politicians. We will have to fight at every crossing for energy independence and a flourishing local economy. The opposition will be organized, well funded, and as passionate as we are.
The writer is a Georgetown County council member.