By Audrey Hudson
Activists who oppose offshore drilling and seismic testing gathered at Plyler Park in May for the Hands Across the Sand event sponsored in Myrtle Beach by SODA and the Grand Strand Surfrider Foundation. Matt Silfer for The Sun News.
October 11, 2017 6:22 PM
Testifying before a congressional panel on Wednesday, S.C. State Sen. Stephen Goldfinch painted a picture of poverty in the Conway and Georgetown area and said that offshore drilling for energy would boost the region’s economy.
“The goose that laid the golden egg in South Carolina is tourism and we can’t lose that,” Goldfinch told those gathered in the Washington, D.C. hearing room.
“But for the people of Conway, Andrews and Georgetown, the golden goose never really came to fruition for them. Oil and gas could be that golden goose for them,” Goldfinch said.
Despite local opposition to offshore drilling, Goldfinch appeared before the House Natural Resources subcommittee on energy and mineral resources to testify on behalf of legislation that would increases access for energy companies to drill offshore South Carolina or other coastal states.
The bill would also limit a president’s authority to withdraw certain areas of the outer continental shelf from oil and gas drilling, and creates a revenue sharing framework with affected states.
Numerous elected officials along the coast are opposed to offshore drilling and have issued resolutions banning such, including the Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Horry County Council. Gov. Henry McMaster also opposes offshore drilling, as does U.S. Rep. Tom Rice who represents the Myrtle Beach area in Congress.
Opponents say an offshore spill would decimate the state’s billion dollar tourism economy.
Former President Obama initially put a moratorium on drilling off the Atlantic coast for five years, but President Trump issued an order earlier this year restarting exploration in the North Atlantic and Arctic, which is expected to lead to offshore drilling.
Goldfinch’s state Senate district includes Horry and Georgetown Counties.
Goldfinch acknowledged there are environmental risks in offshore drilling that could be detrimental to the state’s tourism economy, but told the congressional panel that revenue sharing lease money from the activities would be welcome in the South Carolina.
“Offshore drilling is no silver bullet, it certainly poses risks. But to the people of Georgetown, Andrews and Conway, I’ll bet they’re willing to take that risk,” Goldfinch said.
Local residents opposed to offshore drilling disagreed, and criticized Goldfinch for suggesting to Congress and a national audience that gas and oil development would be welcomed by most South Carolinians.
“He sees money, and that is really what matters to him,” Peg Howell, a member of Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic (SODA), said in a statement.
“It’s a familiar ploy — the oil and gas industry makes big promises of money to states, and tries to buy off opposition,” Howell said. “Sen. Goldfinch has fallen for that. What he does not care about, it seems, is what harm this could do to our strong tourism base, the environment, and way of life we enjoy in coastal South Carolina.”
As word spread about Goldfinch’s appearance before Congress, he sent an email to constituents on Tuesday and pledged not to take a position for or against offshore drilling. He repeated that pledge during his testimony.
“I’m not here to endorse any industry or throw my support behind drilling, that’s not the purpose of my testimony today,” Goldfinch said.
However, Goldfinch said drilling would bring tens of thousands of jobs to the state, and suggested those jobs were desperately needed in Conway and Andrews, were he said half of the children live in “abject poverty.”
The unemployment rate in Conway is 5.6 percent, and 4.8 percent in Georgetown County.
“Georgetown has had a history of getting industry and losing it, and the people of Georgetown long for a day when they can again put their talents and their bank accounts to use,” Goldfinch said.
Goldfinch has a bill pending in the state Senate that would put the drilling issue to voters as a ballot question in the 2018 primary election.
Georgetown City Councilman Al Joseph says that the issue of offshore drilling should be decided by coastal residents who will live with the effects of energy development.
“We in the coastal areas are at ground zero, yet he wants the people of the upstate to tell us they want drilling,” Joseph said. “He wants to take this out of the hands of residents of coastal South Carolina.”
In his campaign for the state Senate last year, Goldfinch spent more than $247,000, of which $4,750 came from the oil and gas industry, according to votesmart.org.