Offshore oil drilling and exploration is overwhelmingly opposed along the U.S. Atlantic Coast, including off South Carolina, and the opposition has become increasingly bipartisan. S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster joined fellow Republican governors of Maryland and New Jersey and Democratic governors of North Carolina and Delaware in opposing the Trump administration’s efforts to expand drilling and testing.
In the waning months of 2016 and President Barack Obama’s administration, the president shut the door on drilling in the Atlantic and other oceans, following an outcry from citizens and local governments along the East Coast. President Donald Trump nullified the Obama executive order with a Trump executive order – which seemed to be aimed largely at undoing another Obama action.
Whatever Trump’s basic motives, opponents of offshore drilling remained well organized, including tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of local businesses, commercial fishing families, more than 130 coastal municipalities, such as Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, and environmental groups such as Oceana. Residents from Florida to Maine and California to Alaska have voiced opposition to the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management of the Department of the Interior.
In the ongoing federal budget appropriations process, more than 30 amendments were submitted related to offshore drilling. One of the amendments is by Rep. Mark Sanford of the First Congressional District. The Sanford amendment “restricts the use of funds for researching, investigating or studying offshore drilling in the Atlantic or Florida Straits planning areas.”
Sanford’s opposition to drilling and seismic testing perhaps has helped other Republicans move their positions to oppose drilling. A key example is the Aug. 17 letter U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, who represents the Seventh Congressional District, which includes Georgetown and Horry counties, wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke: “It’s no secret that tourism is the leading industry of South Carolina. Every year, some 17 million visitors flock to Myrtle Beach on vacation, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that goes to fund infrastructure, education and health care around the state.
“While drilling off the coast of South Carolina may have economic benefits, it comes with potential risks. With the success of fracking, the cost of a barrel of oil has plummeted. Offshore drilling no longer enjoys the economic prospects it once held. However, the risks still exist. ... I oppose opening up the coast of South Carolina for oil and gas production.”
Rice leaves open the issue of seismic testing, a prelude to drilling, where Sanford also opposes testing. Samantha Siegel of Oceana noted that Sanford opposes testing because the data gathered is proprietary, that is, the property of the petroleum companies. There are also concerns that seismic testing poses for the ocean environment and its inhabitants.
The ultimate concern, of course, is the very real risk of an oil spill and the absolute economic disaster that would mean for areas such as the Grand Strand.
The American Petroleum Institute claims more production in the Atlantic, eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Artic will strengthen national security, as well as create more domestic energy, jobs and government revenue. The fact is, the nation has more oil and natural gas than was imagined only a few years ago. Across the nation, including areas of South Carolina, more electricity is being produced from the sun and the wind. More than half of the electricity produced in the state is from nuclear generating plants.
After spending billions of dollars, two S.C. power companies abandoned expansion at one of the state’s nuclear plants, and utility customers, one way or another, will continue to repay the construction loans.
So, several factors make it abundantly clear there is no need to expand offshore drilling here or elsewhere along U.S. coasts, and if at some future time there should be a need, any oil or gas will be out there for other generations.