Debate over offshore drilling is heating up with the final plan for oil and gas exploration along the East Coast expected to be released in a few months.
Business leaders are pleading with the governor to keep it away from South Carolina, more studies have come out supporting each side and some question whether it’s even an issue as oil prices continue to drop.
Leaders say they’ll have a better picture once they know what’s really out there.
“How can you make an intelligent decision if you have no idea what’s out there?” asked Congressman Tom Rice (R-South Carolina), who is advocating for seismic testing to see what lies beneath the deep ocean floor. But even a seismic exploration has ruffled feathers.
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“You’ve got people on the seismic testing that say it’s going to kill a bunch of sea life and you’ve got the other side who says it won’t do anything and I don’t believe either side,” Rice said. “The truth is probably somewhere in there.”
The debate continued in a new report that said the oil and gas industry won’t bring the hundreds of thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars to states an earlier study said it would.
A 2013 study by Quest Offshore Resources Inc. predicted opening the Atlantic outer continental shelf to oil and natural gas exploration could produce 1.3 million barrels of oil per day. The study said it could generate nearly 280,000 jobs and contribute up to $23.5 billion a year to the U.S. economy by 2035.
But Quest says its study assumed the full Atlantic coast would be open to exploration. That’s not happening.
The U.S. Department of Interior announced in January a proposal to limit oil and gas exploration to the shores of the south Atlantic, from Virginia to Georgia. And a new report by the Center for the Blue Economy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies pounced on Quest’s old data, calling it “too optimistic.”
We specifically wrote our paper to address a different scenario than what they’re looking at.
Sean Shafer, manager of consulting specialists at Quest
“We specifically wrote our paper to address a different scenario than what they’re looking at so saying our study is wrong, is not really true. It’s just different than what is currently proposed,” said Sean Shafer, lead author of the Quest report.
The Middlebury study said the Quest report didn’t take into account the potential damage oil and gas could bring to the $14.5 billion ocean industry economy already on the coast. But Shafer says the Middlebury study didn’t play out that claim in scenarios that would show the perceived potential harm.
“You have to have a methodology saying this is how the jobs are going to be lost, these are the types of jobs that are going to be lost and have a methodology, have a projection” showing the loss, Shafer said.
The dueling studies continue a debate that erupted in the southeast after the Department of Interior’s proposal was released in January. Since then, two dozen South Carolina coastal towns and cities have passed resolutions against offshore drilling. Business leaders have lobbied against it in state houses. Even presidential candidates, like Hillary Clinton, have spoken against it.
Business leaders held a news conference at the Statehouse last week calling on Gov. Nikki Haley to “withdraw South Carolina from the federal government’s plans for offshore drilling.” The group penned their plea in a letter signed by more than 400 business owners and associations, including several along the Grand Strand.
Sandra Bundy, a Realtor from B&P Inc. in Murrells Inlet, came to the news conference to share the history of her hometown and a plea for its safety. The historic fishing village is revered for its seafood.
There’s been a lot of hard work on this coast to build it up to what it is today. We don’t want to put it in jeopardy.
Sandra Bundy, Realtor in Murrells Inlet
History and legends credit it as the place where hushpuppies were born and pirates hid their treasure, but Bundy now sees the future of Murrells Inlet threatened by offshore drilling.
“There’s been a lot of hard work on this coast to build it up to what it is today. We don’t want to put it in jeopardy,” Bundy said.
She said she is concerned about real estate values, comparing the figures to the property values that tanked on the Gulf Coast after the Deepwater Horizon blowout.
“People come to the coast for our unique quality of life and for our special places,” Bundy said. “Those people don’t want to buy houses or rent houses in an industrial area, where there has been a spill, or even where there is the perception of a spill. We need to think about property values.”
Briarcliffe Acres became the latest municipality in October to pass a resolution against offshore drilling, joining 23 other S.C. coastal towns including Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach in a stance against oil exploration.
Opponents have lobbied against drilling and exploration, saying it would hurt marine life and mar the coastlines and kill the $18 billion tourism industry on the state’s coast.
Advocates for oil and gas say modern equipment is safer today than it’s ever been, seismic testing poses no real threat to marine life and states could benefit economically from the new industry.
The 2013 Quest report was prepared for the American Petroleum Institute and National Ocean Industries Association. The newest Middlebury study was prepared for the Southern Environmental Law Center.
I’d like for them to do the seismic testing just to give us a better idea of what is out there.
U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C.
But as the debate over the potential benefits and harsh effects of offshore drilling continues, Rice questions whether there will be enough oil and natural gas deposits in the outer continental shelf to make exploration really worth it.
“I’d like for them to do the seismic testing just to give us a better idea of what is out there,” he said. “But I really don’t think offshore drilling is a realistic possibility right now. I don’t see if we’ll ever go back to $100 a barrel in the foreseeable future.”
The low cost of oil has been driving companies, who see smaller profit margins, to cap wells across the country. If the current trend continues, Rice said offshore drilling in the Southeast will likely lose its luster for the industry.
Reach Weaver at 843-444-1722 or follow her on Twitter @TSNEmily.
By the numbers:
280,000 jobs estimated to be generated by oil and natural gas development through 2035, according to 2013 Quest study
249,000 ocean-related jobs were recorded in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia in 2012, according to new Middlebury study
$14.5 billion contributed to state economies in the South Atlantic region in 2012 from ocean-related industries, according to the Middlebury study
$9.4 billion estimated contributions to the economies of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia from oil and gas over a span of 18 years through 2035, according to Quest
68,053 ocean-related jobs in South Carolina in 2012, according to Middlebury
35,569 jobs estimated to be created in the state from oil and gas through 2035, according to Quest