The Greenville News
March 27, 2018
By Eric Connor
The city of Greenville will take more time to consider to what degree it should oppose offshore drilling activities off the state’s coastline.
The City Council was poised to pass a resolution Monday night opposing drilling, which would have made Greenville the first city in the Upstate to join all coastal cities in opposition since President Donald Trump’s administration loosened restrictions on exploration.
The council postponed the resolution, however, after concerns over whether it should leave out language that would also oppose seismic testing used to determine what might lie beneath the ocean floor.
“We just need to do a little more work,” City Councilwoman Amy Ryberg Doyle said. “I think all of our intent is to support our municipalities on the coast.”
Early last week a council subcommittee agreed to remove language from the resolution that would have opposed the sonic blasts that environmentalists say are harmful to sea creatures.
Councilwoman Lillian Brock Flemming said she has received requests to add more-restrictive language to the resolution and wants to take more time.
“I’m learning more and more,” she said.
Councilman Russell Stall was the lone dissenter in postponing the vote, saying that waiting to voice opposition could be harmful to efforts to protect the state’s environment and coastal tourism industry.
“Time is of the essence on this,” he said.
Mayor Knox White was absent from Monday’s council meeting, and Doyle said he should be a part of any vote on the resolution.
Later Monday evening White told The Greenville News that he supports a resolution opposing drilling whether it includes the issue of exploration or not.
A position of neutrality on exploration would be in keeping with the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce’s position.
“When it comes to offshore exploration in the Atlantic, the state chamber supports the testing that is needed to accurately understand what assets lie off of our coast,” Ted Pitts, the chamber’s president and CEO, said in a statement.
“Gathering this information is key to determining the right approach moving forward for our state,” Pitts said. “Total opposition to testing is short-sighted, as South Carolina needs a seat at the table as the federal government, North Carolina and Georgia look at what they will do in federal waters and around our coast.”
The Greenville Chamber of Commerce has yet to take a position on either exploration or drilling, said Jason Zacher, the chamber’s senior vice president of business advocacy.
“We don’t have enough information to take a position,” he said.
The state Small Business Chamber of Commerce opposes exploration and drilling on the basis that a spill could devastate small businesses, said Frank Knapp, the organization’s president and CEO.
Greenville would be the first city in the Upstate to pass such a resolution and would join the state’s largest inland city, Columbia, which passed a resolution against the activity in 2015, according to a report by environmental advocacy group Oceana.
Every major city along the state’s coast has mounted opposition to drilling.
An original draft of Greenville’s resolution included language opposing exploration.
Last April, Trump directed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the country’s five-year offshore oil and gas development plan, and he instructed that the country establish policies that promote energy independence, streamline its permitting processes for seismic surveys of the ocean subfloor, and begin offering leases of offshore acreage to oil and gas companies for exploration.
The America First Offshore Energy Strategy directed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to review regulations and permitting for seismic surveys and permitting for oil and gas development and to expedite reviews of applications wherever possible.
The move to review the five-year offshore strategy came just a year after former President Barack Obama left the entire Atlantic coast off of the next five-year plan, which began last summer and will last through 2022.
Trump’s decision was met with immediate opposition from environmental groups along the East Coast who say an offshore oil spill could devastate coastal communities and their tourism economies.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has expressed opposition to exploration and asked Trump, whom he endorsed in the state Republican presidential primary, to exempt the state’s coastline from its order, as the administration did for Florida in January.