Myrtle Beach council votes to oppose offshore drilling

People opposed to offshore drilling clap as Myrtle Beach City Council passed a resolution opposing offshore drilling Tuesday afternoon.
People opposed to offshore drilling clap as Myrtle Beach City Council passed a resolution opposing offshore drilling Tuesday afternoon. cslate@thesunnews.com

Myrtle Beach City Council on Tuesday became the second Grand Strand municipality to oppose offshore drilling and oil and gas exploration along the S.C. coast.

Council voted 6-1, saying they wanted to protect the beaches from potential oil spills. Councilman Randal Wallace voted against the resolution.

“In my opinion – this is Mike’s opinion – it’s not a matter of if, it would just be a matter of when,” Councilman Mike Lowder said of the potential of an oil spill making its way to Myrtle Beach beaches. “After some soul searching, I’m not going to be a part of it. ... I’m not going to support anything that’s going to have the potential to destroy our beach.”

Myrtle Beach becomes the 18th S.C. government to pass a resolution opposing offshore drilling, according to Oceana, an environmental group opposing Atlantic drilling. Atlantic Beach Town Council passed a similar resolution last week.

The vote comes in response to the federal Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management taking comment earlier this year on what should be included in environmental studies to decide whether areas in the Atlantic are opened to oil and gas development later this decade. Charleston, Georgetown and Columbia passed similar measures earlier this year.

Speaking after all other council members voiced their opposition to offshore drilling – to thunderous applause from more than 100 opponents of drilling in the audience - Wallace said he knew he would not win the argument in support of offshore drilling.

“Have you ever been to a tuxedo ball and felt like a pair of brown shoes?” he said. “I feel like a pair of brown shoes.”

Wallace said he believes that, if there is oil or gas off the coast of South Carolina, it would be a way to diversify the job market.

“I think this is the best opportunity to bring higher paying jobs – maybe not to Myrtle Beach – but to Georgetown County and to rural Horry County,” Wallace said.

Councilman Mike Chestnut said while he supported a diverse job force, drilling wasn’t the way to do it.

“I’d love to see us somehow diversify jobs and bring other types of jobs here,” he said. “But I’m not sure this is the one there’s a need for.”

City Council initially planned to vote on a resolution opposing offshore drilling in March and instead postponed discussion so there could be an educational forum where both sides – those for and against seismic testing – could present information. That forum never occurred and Councilman Wayne Gray said last month it was time the city discuss the issue.

The resolution holds no power, but environmentalists have said it sends a message to the federal government that coastal towns don’t want oil and gas exploration near them.

“Conservation Voters of South Carolina applauds Mayor John Rhodes for his leadership, and the Myrtle Beach City Council for taking a stand and protecting our coast and the tourism jobs it supports,” Executive Director Ann Timberlake said in a statement. “Gov. Nikki Haley should heed the call of the coastal communities that would be most affected by offshore drilling for oil and gas and reconsider her support for risky offshore drilling.”

Haley supports offshore drilling and is a member of the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, which has a mission statement that says it works to “influence a sensible path forward for the development of America’s offshore energy resources.”

Drilling proponents say it can help reduce dependence on foreign energy and create jobs and revenue.

Opponents of offshore drilling worry that spills could damage fisheries and the important coastal tourism industry. Supporters say drilling can be done safely and will mean jobs and new revenues.

Maya T. Prabhu: 843-444-1722, @TSN_mprabhu