February 16, 2018
BY STEVE GILBERT
I have listened to most pro-oil and gas exploration and drilling arguments and find then to be hype or just plain scams probably created by public relations experts and other supporters of the oil industry.
- “We just need to find out what’s out there.”
Many including state Rep. Stephen Goldfinch and, more recently, Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant have touted this line. Firstly, the seismic exploration methodology is extremely harmful to marine life from the zooplankton food web base essentially up through invertebrates, sea turtles, fish and marine mammals. Secondly, we will never know “what’s out there” unless we have the money to buy the multimillion-dollar proprietary data set. Thirdly, it really doesn’t matter what’s out there if the majority of coastal South Carolinians don’t want the risks associated with oil and gas drilling.
In addition, besides being highly destructive to marine life, seismic surveys do not actually determine “what’s out there.” They are used to identify areas favorable for the accumulation of hydrocarbons and to derive estimates of the technically and economically recoverable resources. It is necessary to drill exploratory wells to determine if oil or natural gas is actually present. The Deepwater Horizon was an exploratory well.
- “We just need to drill for gas and not oil.”
Also expressed by Goldfinch and Bryant. However, there is no way you can extract gas without extracting oil and incurring the same risk of spills and leaks. The American Petroleum Institute and other oil industry groups have stated that without drilling it is not possible to predict with certainty whether a field will contain oil, natural gas, or both. If an oil company drills a well expecting gas and discovers commercial quantities of oil, that oil will be produced.
- “We need the oil to be independent of foreign oil and for national security”
In reality, because of shale deposits, we have recently become the world’s largest oil producer. If we desperately needed more oil, why would Congress authorize the export of our oil for the first time? Why would the Trump administration recently announce the sell-off of half of our strategic oil reserves (held for catastrophic shortages)? How do these two actions affect our national security? To achieve energy security we need to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels and develop more diverse, efficient, environmentally sustainable, and economically stable sources of energy.
- “It could create lots of jobs.”
Experienced oil rig workers brought in from the Gulf Coast would most probably fill the majority of the jobs drilling would create. Further jobs could possibly be created by industrializing our coast with oil-related infrastructure, which no one on the coast and in the rest of the state should want from tourism, economic, coastal aesthetic and wildlife losses.
- “South Carolina could be eligible for up to a few billion in annual royalties from the federal government.”
This is highly speculative. Royalties on the Gulf Coast arose as a mechanism to help fund environmental restoration from oil drilling impacts. Such impacts continue to occur in the Gulf to the detriment of beaches and coastal waters. Even if unlikely royalties were authorized, the amount would pale in comparison to the risk of annually losing any of the $20 billion or more in coastal tourism revenue. Shoreline infrastructure spills and leaks are more than likely to cause such tourism revenue losses. The likelihood of catastrophic spills has been greatly increased by the administration’s rollback of the post-Deepwater Horizon safety regulations to help preclude another such incident.
Steve Gilbert, a fish and wildlife biologist, is special project manager for the South Carolina Wildlife Federation.