By Beth Daley, Globe Staff
This is what oil and gas drilling on Georges Bank looked like in the early 1980s.
As President Bush lifts an executive order banning offshore drilling on the outer continental shelf and urges Congress to do the same to combat rising oil and gas prices, it's a good time to remember that we did have drilling here. Eight exploratory wells were dug to average depths of 16,000 feet about 125 miles east of Cape Cod through early 1982.
Globe file photo
Environmentalists say it's highly unlikely Georges Bank will be open anytime soon for drilling - Congress is largely opposed to lifting its moratorium, local opposition is fierce and the drilling that did take place a generation ago indicates there may not be much oil and gas down there anyway.
But the story of drilling on Georges Bank is fascinating - and one that took place during a similar time of high gas prices and pressures for the nation to become energy independent.
In the winter of 1977, the Department of the Interior announced plans to auction offshore drilling leases in the North Atlantic.
Despite local environmentalists and fishermen arguing that an oil spill and drilling itself could cause great harm to the enormous fishing industry on Georges Bank, the lease was scheduled.
|Globe file photo|
Conservation Law Foundation, along with the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives' Association and the state of Massachusetts, filed suit. US District Court Judge Arthur Garrity temporarily blocked the sale and the court of appeals upheld his ruling. The case was scheduled to be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court when the U.S. Justice Department suddenly withdrew its appeal. It was considered one of the regionís greatest environmental wins at the time.
A lease sale did finally take place in 1979, almost two years after it had been originally scheduled.
"Essentially (the lawsuit) bought time,'' said Peter Shelley, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation who was a third-year law student at the foundation at the time and worked on the case. "It allowed the conversation that offshore had a lot of importance other than oil production."
About $817 million in bids were accepted for 63 offshore tracts during the lease sale, according to Boston Globe newspaper clips. A consortium of oil and gas companies pooled their resources and a mobile oil rig was towed to Georges Bank. Word leaked out they found little.
While there were future attempts to sell leases, dwindling interest by oil and gas companies - and environmental opposition - stalled them. Today, there is a Congressional moratorium on drilling that is renewed every year.
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