House committee to meet Tuesday on seismic testing offshore

House committee to meet Tuesday on seismic testing offshore

Statehouse Report
November 24, 2017

By Lindsay Street, Statehouse correspondent

A special S.C. House subcommittee will hear from the public Tuesday on whether there is a way to make surveying for offshore oil and natural gas drilling more palatable to environmentalists, tourism leaders and others in the state.

The S.C. House Agriculture Committee’s ad hoc committee on offshore drilling will host a daylong hearing. Starting at 10 a.m. Nov 28,  elected leaders from the coast — including Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling — will speak against the federal government’s move to open offshore drilling in the Atlantic. In the afternoon, Georgetown County Republican state  Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, a surveying proponent, is expected to  speak.

“Put simply, offshore oil drilling is a bad idea — and a bad deal — for the people of Charleston and South Carolina,” Tecklenburg told Statehouse Report.  “We just have too much to lose.

“Contamination of our waterways would have devastating effects on our environment, damaging our coastal ecosystems, local seafood industry and wildlife. And any spill would do incalculable harm to our region’s economy, and quite possibly destroy the quality of life we hold so dear here in the Lowcountry.”

At issue is whether South Carolina should effectively ban offshore drilling for oil and natural gas after President Donald Trump signed an executive order in April allowing for oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic.

The federal government oversees a majority of the jurisdiction off the coast of South Carolina, but there is a bill in the works that would effectively shut down the ability of oil and gas companies to drill, according to S.C. Small Business Association CEO Frank Knapp. It’s a model that worked decades ago to stop drilling off of California: pass local or state legislation that would ban construction of infrastructure needed to transport the fuel.

In August, a bipartisan group of 32 state lawmakers signed a letter opposing efforts to open offshore drilling off of South Carolina.

The committee is working to balance concerns from environmentalists and pro-drilling businesses.

Goldfinch is one of the few vocal, elected officials supporting seismic testing in South Carolina. He testified before Congress this summer on the issue

“We’re being a little bit foolish not to allow seismic testing,” Goldfinch told Statehouse Report. “We need to know what’s offshore. We need to know what’s under the waves.”

Goldfinch said there was no documentation that the surveying kills marine mammals. This is not corroborated by research from environmentalists, however. The international ocean protection group Oceana claims blasts from surveying temporarily or permanently damage a marine mammal’s hearing, which can lead to an animal’s death.

Goldfinch also said the reserves found in the Atlantic will likely be natural gas, not oil, so there would be no threat of spills.  He added oil and natural gas companies probably wouldn’t move soon on drilling in South Carolina waters.

“It’s not going to happen in the near future and, if it happens, it will be drilling for natural gas,” Goldfinch predicted.

In May, Goldfinch introduced a bill that would take the issue to the voters of South Carolina on whether to allow offshore drilling for oil and natural gas. The bill is in the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The public will have an opportunity to speak after Goldfinch on Tuesday at the first floor conference room in the Blatt House Office Building on the Statehouse grounds in Columbia. Those wishing to sign up to speak during the public hearing are asked to come before the meeting starts.