Editorial: Wrong message on offshore oil

Editorial: Wrong message on offshore oil

Charleston Post and Courier
October 19, 2017

Despite nearly universal opposition to offshore drilling among coastal South Carolina residents and their elected representatives, state Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Murrell’s Inlet, recently told a congressional panel that Georgetown would be an ideal spot for the oil industry to build the infrastructure needed to support offshore rigs.

That’s sending the wrong message. What’s worse, Sen. Goldfinch was testifying in support of a bill that would limit the president’s authority to ban drilling on the outer continental shelf and weaken the approval process for offshore leases.

He suggested offshore drilling would help reinvent Georgetown as a working waterfront and bring thousands of jobs to relatively depressed areas such as Conway and Andrews.

“I believe offshore oil and gas exploration and development could help write the next chapter in [Georgetown’s] history,” Mr. Goldfinch told a House subcommittee. Actually, Georgetown officials already have a solid plan to revitalize Georgetown’s waterfront with residential and commercial development supplanting port operations and a disused steel plant.

In any event, both the city and county of Georgetown have gone on record in opposition to offshore drilling, as have all coastal South Carolina congressional representatives, and other coastal city and county governments. So have a wide range of environmental organizations. The S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce has taken a leading role in the opposition, representing 500,000 fishing families and 41,000 businesses in this and other states.

Given his support for developing Georgetown as a hub for offshore exploration, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Sen. Goldfinch is also sponsoring a bill aimed at putting a referendum on offshore drilling on a statewide ballot next year. That would be a further affront to his constituents. Coastal residents don’t need one of their own legislators attempting to pass the decision-making to voters from the Midlands and Upstate who wouldn’t be dealing with the consequences of seismic testing and offshore drilling.

And it’s a particularly bad time for that sort of legislative antic, especially in light of the Oct. 12-13 oil spill from an offshore rig about 40 miles off the Louisiana Coast, which at an estimated 9,000 barrels serves as a reminder of the tragic 2010 BP disaster.

President Donald Trump’s administration is already working feverishly to lift many of the offshore drilling bans put in place by the previous administration. In April, the president signed an executive order aimed at reversing offshore drilling bans and easing the permitting process for offshore seismic testing. House Republicans recently passed a provision for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.

The House subcommittee also heard from offshore drilling opponents in July, including North Litchfield Beach resident and former Chevron engineer Peg Howell of Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic (SODA). She argued that the number of jobs that would be created locally by offshore drilling was inflated and that most of the skilled positions would be filled by out-of-state industry journeymen.

Tourism — mostly along the coast — already brings in about $20 billion annually in South Carolina, compared to a projected economic impact of $2.7 billion for oil and gas over 20 years.

Sen. Goldfinch was invited to testify to the subcommittee by Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., who represents an Upstate district centered in Anderson. The coastal representatives who have opposed offshore drilling — Republicans Mark Sanford and Tom Rice, and Democrat Jim Clyburn — should make clear their opposition to their colleagues. And Gov. Henry McMaster, who stated his opposition to the drilling proposal while serving as lieutenant governor, should underscore that position as the state’s chief executive.

The state’s booming coastal tourism industry doesn’t need fouled beaches and the threat of blowouts and spills. South Carolina leaders should be working to protect coastal resources, not setting them up for the highest bidder.

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