Charleston Post and Courier
April 2, 2017
I have lived on Sullivan’s Island since 1981. In 2002, I attended graduate school in Santa Barbara, Calif. Walking the beach there, I was horrified at the sight of oil rigs offshore and tar balls stuck to my feet. I was grateful that no structures marred our view or tar contaminated our pristine shore back home.
In May 2015 an oil spill off Santa Barbara coincided with a bill sponsored by South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott that would permit oil and gas drilling off Mid- and South Atlantic states. The bill, incorporated into legislation by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, passed the Senate Energy Committee, but died when that session of Congress ended.
On March 15, a new bill, “Unleashing American Energy Act of 2017” was introduced by Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy. Drawn in part from Scott’s earlier bill, it could amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to authorize more oil and gas lease sales. The specter of a Santa Barbara-like disaster off our coast could become reality.
Defending his 2015 bill, Sen. Scott said, “South Carolina’s pristine coastline is a world- class tourist destination that will always be a cornerstone of our state’s economy.” He said he worked to ensure that his legislation “protects our tourism industry while opening the door to new economic opportunities.” Scott maintained that “safe and responsible energy production off the Atlantic coast has the ability to grow our economy, create thousands of good paying jobs, and continue to strengthen our nation’s energy future.”
Sen. Scott’s predictions don’t add up. The Post and Courier reported that, in 2015, tourists spent more than $20 billion in South Carolina. In 2014, tourism supported one of every 10 jobs and generated over $1 billion in tax revenue for state and local governments.
Tourism revenue has increased every year for almost three decades.
The American Petroleum Institute estimates that the 20-year economic impact of drilling offshore of South Carolina would be $2.7 billion.
That would mean that oil and gas would generate less than 1 percent of the economic impact than tourism has on South Carolina’s economy.
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If a “small” Santa Barbara oil spill closed beaches for weeks, including Memorial Day weekend, a major oil spill could put our tourism industry out of business for years.
History, including Santa Barbara’s spill, reminds us that there is no “safe and responsible energy production” with oil drilling. If “South Carolina’s pristine coastline is a world-class tourist destination and … a cornerstone of our state’s economy,” why would Sen. Scott risk economic disaster and jobs lost in the (inevitable) event of an oil spill?
Alice T. Morrisey
Sullivan’s Island, SC