Charleston Post and Courier
March 19, 2018
South Carolina apparently meets all the criteria for an exemption from President Donald Trump’s ill-advised offshore oil drilling program. Just consider the recent comments of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on drilling off the Pacific Coast states.
Mr. Zinke expressed doubt that any drilling would occur off the West Coast, where public opposition is strong and state lawmakers have erected roadblocks, saying the federal waters off California, Oregon and Washington have “no known resources of any weight,” The Washington Post reported.
Well, South Carolina has zero proven oil reserves, no refineries and no infrastructure to support offshore exploration.
The state does have a $20 billion coastal tourism industry to protect. And most South Carolinians are opposed to offshore drilling, with the opposition being nearly unanimous along the coast. Every coastal jurisdiction in the Palmetto State came out against offshore drilling when it was first proposed by the Obama administration. Almost all also have opposed seismic testing.
So if there’s a pecking order when it comes to exemptions, South Carolina should rank high.
Mr. Zinke told a Washington state lawmaker the president’s 2019-24 offshore leasing plan proposed opening nearly all U.S. waters to oil exploration “so we could have a dialogue and then take what’s appropriate off.”
That’s a ray of hope, and it should encourage Gov. Henry McMaster, South Carolina’s congressional delegation, state lawmakers, local governments and environmental activists to keep pushing for an exemption, because the process of putting a new five-year leasing program into place is a slow one.
South Carolina’s opposition to offshore drilling and seismic testing helped persuade the Obama administration to exclude the state from offshore leasing in 2016, and momentum against offshore drilling has been building since the current administration proposed to revive the plan.
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is now evaluating public comments regarding offshore drilling after holding a series of meetings around the country. It could be a year or more before any leasing plan is finalized.
And if Florida can be exempted because of political opposition and threats to its tourism industry, so can South Carolina. It’s also worth noting that the only exploratory wells drilled off South Carolina, in the late 1970s, turned out to be dry holes.
If any deposits were tapped off South Carolina, a spill would be devastating to tourism, and commercial and recreational fishing. And it would be particularly damaging to the coastal environment at large, being nearly impossible to clean up because of the marshy, broken coastline.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has become the world’s top oil producer as a result of the fracking process, which also provides natural gas. And other sources of energy, particularly solar, are overtaking fossil fuels for efficiency and low cost. Of course, solar is far safer environmentally.
Just ask those residents along the Gulf of Mexico, who observed the consequences of the Deepwater Horizon spill. Big Oil, incidentally, remains focused on the Gulf, where the federal government will open bidding for its biggest offshore lease ever March 21.
Offshore drilling is a business that South Carolina can do without.