The Washington Post editorial of Sept. 23 ["No to Georges Bank"] must be responded to for two reasons: it contains factual errors, and it does not adequately state the public policy issues before the Department of the Interior in deciding to hold a lease sale on the Georges Bank.
The Post stated that the Georges Bank brings in "well over $1 billion in revenue a year -- every year -- from commercial fishing alone." In 1978, the total catch from the Georges Bank was 126,434 tons, valued at $168 million, of which 83,187 tons were landed in the United States, with a value of $82 million.
The Post indicated that the U.S. Geological Survey's projected "most probable find" equals 150 million barrels of oil. While these figures do represent the USGS estimates, they are just that -- estimates. These figures are derived from seismic and stratigraphic information and are indicators of probability. Further, they represent estimates for the tracts included in Lease Sale No. 42 and not the entire Georges Bank. One of the results of the lease sale in a frontier area such as Georges Bank will be the gain in knowledge and information that can only be derived from actual drilling.
The Post's argument that the 150 million barrels of "estimated" reserve in the tracts proposed for leasing equals 9.5 hours of U.S. energy needs every year for 20 years or eight days of current U.S. consumption is misleading.
If one were to use this approach to present the other perspectives, it could also be argued that the total protein value of all the fish on the Georges Bank would provide only four meals for every American. This kind of argument proves nothing.
The oil and gas in the area being leased could provide the energy equivalent of nearly $7 billion worth of oil imports at today's prices. This is not small potatoes -- or, forgive me, even Idaho potatoes. The reality of the contemporary American energy situation is that we are too heavily dependent on foreign sources of oil.
Finally, The Post agonizes over the spill in the Bay of Campeche and the potential for a similar spill in the Georges Bank. The record of U.S. drilling shows a consistent decrease in the number of accidents and the amount of oil spilled. Since 1956, more than 16,000 wells have been drilled on the Outer Continental Shelf. Studies to date indicate no long-term ecological damage resulting from these operations. Currently, there are more than 2,400 fixed structures on the OCS. In 1978, they produced more than 292 million barrels of oil, or 9.3 percent of U.S. domestic oil, and nearly 4.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or 22.4 percent of U.S. domestic gas. Yet, there were only two oil spills last year of more than 50 barrels, the larger one being only 135 barrels.
Since 1971, there have been only six spills of more than 1,000 barrels, all in the Gulf of Mexico and none from exploratory drilling operations. And the number of small spills, averaging only one or two barrels, has declined over the last eight years.
The most serious error in the Post editorial is the assumption that the Department of the Interior is motivated by some bureaucratic pique and is responding to apparent "symbolism." In 1978, the Congress passed Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act Amendments. This legislative action followed several years of hearings, debate and discussion. The amendments to the existing legislation were substantial and some new sections establish landmark changes in the federal decision-making process.
I am charged with an absolute responsibility to weigh the effects on the fisheries resources in the decision to hold a lease sale. That was done for the Georges Bank.
I am charged with the responsibility to consult with state governors on the size, timing and location of the sale. That was done for the Georges Bank, and the affected state governors who commented on the proposed sale notice are in favor of proceeding with the sale. In fact. through this process we have designed special stipulations that tailor this sale to the unique ecology of the Georges Bank.
Many fishermen recognize that much progress has been made in recent years to strengthen their industry through establishment of a 200-mile economic zone, the Oil Spill Pollution Liability Fund (under OCSLAA) and the Fishermen's Contingency Fund (under OCSLAA).
I would submit that environmental safeguards and economic protections have been adequately afforded and that we can proceed with this sale and not jeopardize the fisheries resources for the fishing industry.
The ability of the oil and gas industry and the fishing industry not only to coexist, but also to thrive is evident in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea. With the special protective measures in place for the upcoming sale, there is no reason these two vital industries cannot do the same in the Georges Bank as well.