Moultrie News (SC)
April 28, 2017
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday asking Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to reconsider opening up the waters off the coast of South Carolina and other areas to offshore oil and gas drilling.
The order also directs the interior secretary to streamline applications for oil and gas exploration off the coast using air cannons that blast the ocean floor and using the resulting vibrations to find good places to look for oil and gas — known as seismic testing .
Both those activities have been the subject of local opposition from coastal governments and communities in the Lowcountry. And Friday afternoon, Mayors Dick Cronin of Isle of Palms, Jane Darby of Edisto Beach, Pat O’Neil of Sullivan’s Island, and John Tecklenburg of Charleston held a joint press conference at the Charleston Maritime Center to speak out against the order.
“About a year ago we were celebrating a victory, having found that even though you can’t fight city hall, if you have enough city halls, you can take on the White House,” said Sullivan’s Island Mayor O’Neil at the conference. “It feels a little bit like Groundhog Day. We’re gonna have to do it all over again, but I certainly hope that we’ll be able to have the same result this time.”
All four cities were among communities all along the coast that came out against offshore drilling, and Tecklenburg went with the mayor of Beaufort to Washington last year to lobby the White House as well as members of Congress against it.
At the conference, the mayors worried about the toll offshore drilling and testing could have on the local environment, not just in the case of a spill, but in the form of the onshore infrastructure — from storage, to refinery and shipping — required to make the industry work.
They also talked about the risk to the fishing industry as well as the tourism industry, which generated over $19 billion for the state in 2014, according to the state department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, and which employs one in every 10 workers in the state, according to 2011 numbers from the state’s Department of Employment and Workforce.
A group from the College of Charleston School of Business found that the Charleston area specifically generated an economic impact of $3.3 billion in 2014, due at least in part to the city’s great reputation. It landed second in 2015 and first in 2016 on Travel + Leisure’s list of the World’s Best Cities.
Tecklenburg said welcoming oil and gas drilling off the coast of South Carolina could put the area’s reputation at stake.
“My dad used to say a good name is rather to be had than great riches, and I believe that the coast of South Carolina has a good name,” he said. “And one major incident, an accident from oil offshore drilling, could ruin our good name.”
Also Friday in the wake of the executive order, Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford introduced a bill that would suspend offshore drilling and all related activities in the waters off the east coast for the next 10 years.
“The Republican party has always said it believed that the government closest to the people governs best. In this case, people from up and down the Atlantic have said in unequivocal fashion that what happens next in their coastal communities should be driven by local decisions rather than mandates that come from Washington,” Sanford said in a statement. “The administration’s proposal is disappointing and at odds with the overwhelming chorus of voices at home speaking out against offshore drilling.”
In a statement, Randall Luthi, the president of the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA), a group that represents the offshore energy industry, said the review of offshore natural resources is sorely needed.
“With a whopping 94 percent of our outer continental shelf currently locked away from oil and gas development, a thorough review of the regulatory framework governing our offshore energy resources is warranted and logical,” he said. “NOIA hopes the review will prompt the Trump administration to begin work on an expedited leasing program that actually increases offshore access and revives efforts to safely conduct modern seismic surveys in the Atlantic.”
Trump’s executive order came on his 99th day in office amid media attention on what the new president has — and has not — accomplished in his first 100 days. It’s his fifth order signed this week and seventh in the last two weeks.
This order also puts in no uncertain terms the administration’s attitude toward offshore energy.
Titled “Presidential executive order Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy,” it states: “It shall be the policy of the United States to encourage energy exploration and production, including on the Outer Continental Shelf, in order to maintain the Nation’s position as a global energy leader and foster energy security and resilience for the benefit of the American people, while ensuring that any such activity is safe and environmentally responsible.”
In March 2016, the Obama administration announced that the federal government would not open up millions of acres off the east coast of the United States — including the South Atlantic region of which the South Carolina coast is a part — up to oil and gas drilling at least until 2022. Trump’s order directs his secretary of the interior to reconsider that plan.
In January, the Obama administration also denied permits to conduct seismic testing off the coast, but the companies that submitted those permits can reapply under the new administration.
Part of the order signed by Trump Friday called for a review of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s technical guidance on how to evaluate the effect of seismic testing on marine mammals. The review calls on NOAA to make sure the guidance is consistent with the administration’s new policy on offshore energy, as outlined in the order.
The impact those booming air cannons could have on marine life, especially mammals who rely on sound to communicate, has been a point of concern for marine scientists and activists who say it disrupts communication necessary for them to eat and breed.