Greenville poised to oppose drilling off South Carolina coastline, but not exploration

Greenville poised to oppose drilling off South Carolina coastline, but not exploration

Greenville News
March 21, 2018

By Eric Connor

The city of Greenville is poised to take a firm position opposing offshore drilling for oil and gas along the state’s coast in a move elected leaders say is designed to show “solidarity with our sister coastal communities.”

The proposed resolution, which City Council is expected to vote on Monday, would stop short of opposing seismic exploration that environmentalists say is harmful to sea creatures.

The neutral position on exploration is in keeping with the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce’s position shared with The Greenville News this week.

“When it comes to off-shore 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.

Unlike Greenville, the chamber is leaving open its position on drilling activity that President Donald Trump’s administration earlier this year smoothed a path for.

“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 S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce has opposed exploration and drilling.

Greenville would be the first city in the Upstate to pass such a resolution and would join the state’s largest inland city, Columbia, in opposition, according to a report by environmental advocacy group Oceana.

Every major city along the state’s coast has mounted opposition to drilling.

“We’re in the Upstate, 200 miles from the ocean, but we do want to respect our local communities and their economic vitality,” Greenville City Councilwoman Amy Ryberg Doyle said.

Councilwoman Lillian Brock Flemming said she opposes offshore drilling on behalf of Upstate residents who travel to the coast.

“I’m concerned about the health and safety of our people when they go on vacation,” she said.

An original proposed resolution drafted in Greenville City Council’s planning and development subcommittee called for opposition to both drilling and exploration.

However, Doyle, who heads the committee, said that the city should follow the lead of chambers of commerce who have remained open about seismic exploration and remove language associated with it.

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 to exempt the state’s coastline from its order, as the administration did for Florida in January.