Testimony: South Carolina House Off-Shore Drilling Ad-Hoc Committee

Testimony: South Carolina House Off-Shore Drilling Ad-Hoc Committee

(Watch the meeting video here at 0:17:30. View Mr. Knapp’s testimony starting at 3:36:30.)

October 26, 2017

Frank Knapp Jr., President & CEO, South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear today on this important issue.

I am Frank Knapp, President and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce which I co-founded in 2000. We have long been strong advocates of growing our local economies that have struggled to lower their unemployment rates.  So those involved in this issue that cite creating jobs as their goal, the Small Business Chamber shares that goal.

Last year, representing the South Carolina Small Business Chamber, I co-founded another organization which I also serve as President and CEO. That is the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast or BAPAC that today represents over 41,000 businesses and 500,000 commercial fishing families from Maine to Florida.

BAPAC’s primary mission is to oppose offshore testing and drilling for oil in the Atlantic because of the damage both would do to our local tourism, commercial fishing and recreation economies.

I’ll address our concerns about drilling in a minute. But first let me start with the exploration for oil.  Of course, we oppose exploration for oil and gas in the Atlantic.  After all, if we don’t allow exploration for oil in the Atlantic, there will be no offshore drilling.

Some of you might subscribe to the belief that there is no harm in just seeing what’s out there. The specific technique for “seeing what’s out there” is called seismic airgun blasting.

But we oppose seismic testing even though we are confident that the results will show oil and gas reserves that would not justify oil companies spending billions of dollars to drill and developing the on-shore infrastructure that would be needed for offshore drilling.

The reason is that seismic airgun blasting itself threatens our local economies.

Let me describe the process.

Seismic airgun blasting is an old technology that blasts extremely loud sound waves miles below the seafloor in a hunt for oil deposits. Under just one permit, seismic testing can go on for up to one year. There are five different companies wanting permits to do this testing.

A seismic vessel can tow up to 96 airguns that can cover an area 21 times larger than the National Mall in Washington, D.C. These blasts are repeated every 10-12 seconds and can be heard for thousands of miles underwater. Seismic airgun blasts are one of the loudest noises in the oceans that even raises objections from the U.S. Navy.

You might say it doesn’t matter if we cause hearing impairment, physiological and behavioral changes and even death to over 138,000 marine mammals that depend on their ability to hear to find food, communicate, navigate and find mates. The federal government has estimated that up to 11,748 bottlenose dolphins could be injured and possibly over a million would have their migration, breeding, feeding and other behaviors disturbed from a year of seismic testing. An employee at this agency told me privately that the mitigation efforts used are woefully inadequate.

The impact on our whale and dolphin tourism industry will be devastating.

And what about all the fish that will be subject to the constant sonic booms. What do you think they will do under these conditions?  Well, we know what they will do.  They’ll flee and the commercial and recreational fishermen will have a hard time finding them.

Commercial fishing catches in Norway decreased by 45-70 percent as a result of seismic testing. That means lost income to commercial fishermen, less catch and fewer dollars for fish processors, less fish for our seafood markets which means higher prices for our restaurants and higher food costs for our visitors.

Research has also shows the harmful impact seismic airgun blasting has on the development and mortality of squid and scallops.

Our entire commercial fishing economy will take an economic hit.

And those charter boats, they won’t be able to keep the recreational fishermen coming if they can’t find their game.

But as bad as all this is, possibly the even bigger threat of seismic testing is to the marine animals that we can barely see but form the foundation of the ocean food chain.

Just this year ground-breaking research has shown the impact of seismic airgun blasting on zooplankton communities that comprise the larval stages of many commercial fisheries species. I’ll quote from this study:

scientists found that the blasts from a single seismic airgun caused a statistically significant decrease in zooplankton 24 hours after exposure. Abundance fell by at least 50% in more than half (58%) of the species observed. The scientists also found two to three times more dead zooplankton following airgun exposure compared to controls and, shockingly, krill larvae were completely wiped out. 

Add all of this up and you see how innocently saying that we should “just see what is out there” is not so innocent. Our commercial fishing and coastal recreation industries in South Carolina create 79,000 jobs and $4.4 billion in GDP.  And it is all dependent on a healthy ocean with healthy marine mammals, fish and even the tiny organisms at the bottom of the food chain.

So even before we discuss the negative impact of offshore drilling on our economy, by supporting oil exploration off our coast you are also saying you want seismic airgun blasting and all its economic destruction. You can’t have the first without the latter.

So now let’s talk about offshore drilling. Can we just stipulate that an oil disaster spill like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf would destroy our tourism, commercial fishing and recreation economies of South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia if it happened off our state’s coast.  Not just for a month or two but for years.  I can get you the statistics on the economic impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill if you need proof.

But most people understand what happened with that oil spill and that’s why you hear proponents of offshore drilling talk about:

-responsible energy development off south Carolina’s coast

-technological innovations

-stringent new safety standards

-safer than ever offshore energy development

All of this happy talk is used to convince elected leaders and the public that another Deepwater Horizon oil spill, even though that was just 7 years ago, is extremely unlikely to happen again.

I don’t know if any of the members of this committee have every talked to the top officials of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, that is the federal agency that will make the decision about allowing offshore drilling in the Atlantic. I have.  And I specifically asked them if technology improvements will make offshore drilling safe from oil spills.

While they said that technology is always getting better, no new technology will ever be 100 percent effective in the prevention of oil spill incidents.

All infrastructure gets old. There are oil spills in the Gulf and in the Arctic going on all the time.  There are oil spills off the California coast where new drilling has been banned for decades. Just a couple weeks ago possibly the largest oil spill since Deepwater Horizon took place off the coast of Louisiana.

The bottom line is that every oil rig and the needed infrastructure will leak. The only question is how much.

Add to this the fact that data from another federal agency, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, shows that about 20 percent of all outer continental shelf oil leaks/spills are due to human error. That’s what happened this month in Louisiana when an oil platform exploded with 7 injured and one missing and presumed dead all due to cleaning chemicals being used on the surface of the oil rig platform.

That is the future of South Carolina’s coast and for the entire Atlantic Coast if those who want to create a few jobs by promoting offshore drilling and establishing an oil industrialized zone in our state are successful.

What I find surprising is the willingness of some to trade off our vibrant tourism, commercial fishing and recreation economy for the hopes of creating a few jobs.

There is not one community along our coast that wants to trade its economy and lifestyle to become an oil industrialized zone. If inland communities like Taylors, Woodruff and Blacksburg were on our coast, I guarantee that every one of them would oppose offshore drilling and seismic testing.

Maybe those who advocate for drilling have no experience with what the industrialized Gulf Coast is really like.

That’s what makes the 2015 opinion editorial by our own Senator Chip Campsen, who has firsthand experience with looking at the Gulf Coast from offshore, so important. He wrote:

“I have observed firsthand the land-based infrastructure necessary to support offshore drilling. It is not a pretty sight. It is extensive, dirty and highly industrial. There simply is no place on South Carolina’s coast appropriate for this kind of industrialization.”

But that’s OK if that’s what Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states want. But it probably was an easy decision to accept oil industrialization for Louisiana.  They don’t have a Grand Strand or Folly Beach or Hilton Head.

I did a Google search for Louisiana beaches. Here is what I found about the most famous Louisiana Beach:

The Grand Isle—Travel two hours south of New Orleans, through the swamps and into the barrier islands, and turn left just before the road ends. You’ll soon find yourself on Grand Isle, a tiny oceanside town.

No offense to our friends in Louisiana but their beaches shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as our South Carolina glorious money-makers. When they have an oil spill off the coast of New Orleans, the tourist just keep rolling in to Bourbon Street.  If we would ever have an oil spill off our coast, the tourists would stop rolling in to our beaches.  The fish would stop rolling into the nets of our commercial fishermen.  The dollars that support our coastal economies would stop rolling in.

The bottom line is that allowing offshore drilling in the Atlantic equals oil washing ashore all at once or in the form of small oil balls continuously. Someone recently told the story of a young women visiting a beach in California and when it was time to get her kids out of the water she had to stop and wipe those tiny balls of oil from their feet.

Off shore oil drilling will inevitably fowl our pristine beaches and coastlines. The only question is how much oil and what will be the cost to our economy.  There can be no harmony between offshore oil drilling and our robust coastal economy.  They are incompatible.  This is a forever decision that can never be undone.

But again, those who want to have an oil industrialized zone in our state to create jobs our well-intentioned. They are just wrong on how to create jobs for some of our communities. They are still subscribing to the old-school belief that we need a big out-of-state industry savior to create our jobs.

While it is good when we do land a big corporate entity from out of state. But that takes a lot of time and millions in incentive money.  And it doesn’t help the other areas of our state that need to grow their economies.

Senator Goldfinch isn’t here but I would tell him that we can grow jobs in Andrews and Conway and we can do it without destroying our vibrant economy.

We can peel off just a little bit of the money we invest in recruiting big businesses and help local rural communities with developing a strategic plan to grow their own small businesses and then help them work those plans.

We can help all communities create jobs, not just the lucky few who benefit from a successful big business recruitment. We at the South Carolina Small Business Chamber have been preaching this message for over a decade.

We already have an all of the above energy policy in this country that includes offshore drilling for oil. But that doesn’t mean that we have to have it here.  That is not who we are and that is not the legacy we want to leave for our children, grandchildren and the generations to come.

It is a forever decision.