No oil has ever been discovered in South Carolina — on land or offshore — and it’s inconceivable that a renewed search for offshore deposits will turn up a bounty worth putting the state’s coastline at risk. The economics just don’t make sense and even exploring is damaging. Seismic testing threatens sea mammals and fisheries by continually peppering the water column with deafening, disorienting air-gun blasts for months at a time, which has been shown to reduce commercial catches by 40-80 percent.
Those reasons were good enough for the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to put the region’s Outer Continental Shelf off limits to oil exploration in 2016, and then to deny the remaining permits for seismic testing. And those same reasons should be good enough for BOEM to exclude federal waters off South Carolina from the Trump administration’s 2019-2024 offshore leasing plan.
BOEM officials are expected to get an earful at a public hearing in Columbia today. Opposition to offshore oil exploration by elected officials and the population at large is effectively unanimous in coastal South Carolina and growing elsewhere in the state.
Gov. Henry McMaster has already appealed to President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, asking them to exempt the state’s offshore waters, citing an unacceptable risk to the state’s annual $20 billion tourism industry, which supports some 600,000 jobs. That compares to optimistic estimates that an offshore oil and gas industry in South Carolina could produce an economic impact of $2.7 billion over two decades.
Additionally, South Carolina has no infrastructure to support an offshore industry, and there’s no guarantee the state would get a cut of oil and gas royalties without congressional authorization. Worse, the Interior Department has moved to relax regulations enacted in response to the disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, making drilling even riskier.
The voices of South Carolina residents should, and do, matter. Overwhelming opposition to offshore exploration helped turn back the tide in 2016, and momentum has been building since then.
Dozens of environmental groups, thousands of businesses and every coastal government in South Carolina have repeatedly expressed their opposition to offshore oil exploration. Several beach towns, including Isle of Palms and Folly Beach, recently signed on to a potential lawsuit aimed at stopping seismic testing as well.