Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with our neighbors in the Gulf who are being impacted by the Deepwater Horizon accident and resulting oil spill. We must learn from this tragedy so that it never happens again.
As a resident of Pawleys Island, I can understand how some South Carolinians might question the safety and necessity of natural gas exploration off the coast of South Carolina if it is permitted in the future. The Horizon accident is a cautionary tale indeed. However, unless we learn the right lessons from it, we may make mistakes that we will regret for years to come.
Our 200 miles of coastline are exquisite. The Grand Strand, Charleston and Lowcountry beaches are among the most beautiful in the world. Our fresh-caught seafood is among the world's best. We would never want to do anything to harm our beautiful beaches or our fertile fisheries.
But we also have a stake in the preservation of offshore drilling, for oil and natural gas fuel our daily activities and contribute mightily to our state's economy and our way of life. Nearly 70,000 South Carolinians work in jobs supported by the oil and natural gas industry, adding more than $4 billion to our state's economic output. Expanding energy exploration off our coast could create thousands of new jobs and bring an infusion of new revenues for public infrastructure projects and public education needs.
Some organizations that have long opposed off-shore exploration are using the emotion of this tragedy to push policymakers to reverse their support of energy exploration and oppose responsible drilling off the Atlantic Coast. That would be a long-term mistake for our economic and energy security. Now, when our economy is struggling and the nation's reliance on foreign oil is growing, is not the time to hobble a vital industry and retreat from our commitment to energy independence.
Despite an impressive safety record, offshore drilling is a business where even one mistake is unacceptable. Consider that Louisiana has more than 3,000 rigs in the Gulf yet there hasn't been a major spill in the Gulf in decades. Remember 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged Gulf Coast communities? Thousands of rigs survived the onslaught, and tens of thousands of oil workers were safely evacuated. That's why smart elected leaders such as Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana have been urging President Obama to rethink his ill-advised moratorium on deep water drilling in the Gulf.
It's unfortunate that the president and some of his supporters in Congress are using the current crisis to push an energy policy that seems so disconnected from economic reality. Tax increases on American energy producers, costly cap and trade mandates and new restrictions on access to domestic energy sources will only make our nation more dependent on foreign oil and our economy less competitive. The positive push for more renewable sources of energy is one we should support, but that is a long-term transition. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint have supported legislation to allow for more access to domestic oil and gas sources so they obviously understand that this will be a vital part of our energy mix for decades to come.
Millions of gallons of oil and natural gas are delivered to American homes, farms, and businesses safely every day. We can learn lessons from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that will allow us to improve safety standards and accelerate cleanup efforts - and the sooner we learn them, the better. But let's not learn the wrong lesson. Our nation's economy and security demand that we continue to expand offshore drilling. Now is the time to reaffirm our commitment to energy independence.
The writer, who lives in Pawleys Island, is chairman of the South Carolina Energy Forum.