The mayors of cities and towns along the Grand Strand said Thursday morning that offshore drilling could imperil the tourism economy of South Carolina.
A news conference organized by Stop Oil Drilling in the Atlantic, a local group, brought together officials to argue that petroleum exploration and extraction off South Carolina’s shore could result in a disaster on the order of the 2010 BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Technology improves. Human beings don’t,” said Jim Watkins, the head of SODA. “There will be mistakes.”
President Donald Trump signed an executive order April 28 that could extend oil extraction to coastal waters that have previously been protected.
Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes, North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley, Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville and other local officials all said that drilling would be the wrong move for the coast and the state. Several towns have passed resolutions in opposition to any type of drilling.
“Oil drilling is not worth just one incident to risk the beauty and the pristine marshes and inlets and rivers of Horry County,” Hatley said.
Rhodes argued that the thousands of jobs in the area that depend on tourism could be endangered by a possible spill.
“Tourism is our only industry,” he said. “Why in the world would we want to support something that has the potential to disrupt that?”
And in Georgetown, an area less dependent on beach-based tourism, Scoville said that the shrimpers, oystermen and other fishermen “depend on clean water in the area for their livelihood.”
Proponents of drilling say the new industry could bring thousands of jobs to the region. But officials argued the industry would not benefit local residents.
“Those jobs will be brought in. People will be brought in,” Hatley said.
Watkins said he hopes that a chorus of local towns opposing the move would be convincing to officials in Washington, D.C., who have said they will focus on areas that are in favor of drilling.
“We’re going to look at everything and make sure the policies are appropriate for each local community, rather than force a Washington-driven, one-size-fits-all plan,” Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in a statement Monday.
Grand Strand mayors said they have been in discussion with their delegation on the state level and will also communicate with lawmakers in Washington.
Meanwhile, Rhodes urged local residents to “speak up, be heard, write letters, make phone calls.”