President Donald Trump’s administration is backing away from plans to allow offshore oil drilling along the shores of South Carolina and other Atlantic coast states, multiple media outlets reported Thursday afternoon.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said his agency is indefinitely sidelining plans that could lead to drilling offshore in the wake of a recent court ruling that blocked drilling in Alaska.
Trump’s administration had been moving to allow drilling on the Atlantic coast after reversing a decision by former President Barack Obama’s administration not to do that.
In March, a federal judge reinstated a ban on drilling in the Arctic that President Obama had put in place, halting plans to open that area to offshore drilling, The Hill reported Thursday. Now, the Department of Interior may have to wait until that case is resolved before deciding to move ahead in the Atlantic, according to The Hill.
Thursday’s news drew an enthusiastic response from Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham of Charleston, environmentalists and small business representatives, who oppose drilling off the coast because of its potential impact on the state’s $20 billion tourism economy.
“Today’s announcement is great news,’’ said McMaster, a Trump ally who disagrees with the president on drilling. “South Carolinians can remain confident that we will continue our efforts to protect our pristine coastline and invaluable tourism industry from the destructive threats of seismic testing and offshore drilling.”
Boosters of oil-drilling say it would be good for South Carolina’s economy, producing hundreds of thousands of jobs. They say it could be done without hurting the environment. The NOIA, a national offshore energy trade group, said it was disappointed in the ruling, but said the U.S. needs to produce more energy.
“What cannot be delayed .... is the importance of domestic production to meet the growing demand for affordable, reliable American energy,’’ the association said..
The prospect of offshore drilling has incensed coastal leaders, many politicians and environmentalists in South Carolina, a state heavily dependent on seaside tourism in communities like Myrtle Beach, Folly Beach and Hilton Head Island. Tourism would be jeopardized by pollution from oil spills and industrialization of the coast if oil rigs are allowed off the state’s beaches, critics say.
Last week, the S.C. Senate voted 40-4 for a budget proviso intended to prevent drilling by making it hard for the industry to establish facilities on land to support work offshore.
The proviso is a temporary ban on installing pipes, tanks or other infrastructure needed to support offshore drilling. Cunningham also has introduced legislation to permanently ban offshore drilling along the South Carolina coast.
“I welcome this news from Interior Secretary Bernhardt and the Trump Administration,’’ Cunningham said in a news release. “This decision is the result of constant pressure from coastal communities, environmental groups, and elected officials who made it abundantly clear that offshore oil and gas drilling is dangerous, unwanted, and a threat to our economy and way of life.’’
The Conservation Voters of South Carolina, the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, Oceana and the Southern Environmental Law Center said they were glad matters are on hold. More than 230 coastal communities in the Southeast have taken positions against drilling, including virtually every coastal government in South Carolina, according to the law center, a regional organization.
“Secretary Bernhardt may be closely aligned with the oil industry, but he also recognizes the political reality of such an unpopular proposal,’’ the law center’s Nat Mund said. “We can only hope this move represents a return to rationality and a genuine listening to the bipartisan voices that have asked the administration to stop this.’’
Frank Knapp, director of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes the delay will lead to a permanent drilling plan halt.
“This is great news for opponents of offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic,’’ he said in a statement. “This delay could push off any final plan approval until after the next presidential election and possibly a new president who could stop the new plan from being implemented.’’