[image-1]With the possibility of oil and natural gas exploration off the Atlantic seaboard back on the table, South Carolina’s coastal leaders find themselves once again taking a stand to prevent drilling in local waters.
In April, President Donald Trump signed his “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy,” which would open up the 94 percent of offshore areas that the federal government has closed to energy exploration and production for the first time in more than 30 years. With the administration’s push to expedite a new leasing program for the national outer continental shelf beginning in 2019, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is now accepting public comments regarding the possibility of bringing the offshore energy industry to South Carolina.
Faced with an Aug. 17 deadline to provide public input, state and local officials rallied in Mt. Pleasant Monday to ask that citizens voice their opposition to such a proposal and encourage Gov. Henry McMaster to do the same.
“The whole idea that we’re spending time and energy going out there and trying to find out what we already know — that it’s not out there, a finite resource — and not dedicating our efforts to doing something that is long-term and sustainable to me is a fight worth having. And I invite all of you to join with me,” said Charleston City Councilman Mike Seekings during the rally hosted by advocacy groups Don’t Drill Lowcountry, Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic (SODA), Coastal Conservation League, Oceana, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and Southern Environmental Law Center.
While Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke pushed Trump’s new energy strategy by saying that the more aggressive approach would “cement our nation’s position as a global energy leader,” the evidence that is currently available suggests that the Southeast coast will likely not by the key to furthering any energy supremacy.
Current estimates of resources off the Atlantic coast from BOEM project 414,000 million barrels of oil and 1.78 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the South Atlantic region stretching from South Carolina to Florida. This roughly equates to 9 percent of the estimated oil supply along the entire Atlantic region and less than 5 percent of potential gas resources.
The point of contention with these estimates is that they are partially derived from the a period of seismic testing and exploratory drilling conducted in the late ‘70 and early ’80s. Modern advancements in exploratory and drilling methods allow for deeper wells and the possibility of gaining a better understanding of what resources are available off the coast.
Of specific concern to opponents of offshore energy exploration is that the results of any seismic testing that would be permitted off the Southeast coast would not be available to the public. This means that little oversight would be possible in making the decision to risk South Carolina’s booming coastal tourism industry against the possibility of untapped resources.
“This region, the Lowcountry, is really a brand. It’s a very valuable brand, and it needs to be protected. When you talk about brands, it really is key to our quality of life here in the Lowcountry, and in the Lowcountry our quality of life is really dependant on our natural environment. So we need to protect that at all costs,” said state Rep. William Cogswell, who cosponsored a bill from fellow House member Leon Stavrinakis that would prevent the state or any municipalities from approving plans to construct infrastructure used to transport offshore oil into the land and waters of South Carolina.
This bill coincides with another piece of proposed legislation introduced by Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, which calls for a 2018 statewide referendum on questions of whether or not the development of an offshore oil and natural gas industry should be permitted in South Carolina.
Cogswell was joined at Monday’s rally by state Sen. Chip Campsen, whose district covers more than 80 miles of the South Carolina coast. According to Campsen, his primary reason for opposing offshore oil exploration and drilling is the potential impact that the industry would have on the shore.
“The onshore infrastructure necessary to sustain offshore drilling is highly industrial, very extensive and expansive, and very unseemly, which is a kind way to put it,” said Campsen, who later shared a phone conversation he had with Gov. McMaster following a fishing trip in the Ace Basin.
“I want to tell you, and I have authorization to do this, I talked to the governor on my way back from tarpon fishing. He told me that he knows my position. I kind of restated it. And he told me that ‘You go ahead and tell the crowd.’ He whole-heartedly agrees with my position,” said Campsen. “The truth is we have developed a land-use pattern on the coast of South Carolina that is wholly incompatible with the onshore infrastructure necessary to support oil.”