Charleston Post and Courier
December 13, 2015


Last week I read an op-ed in this paper from retired Adm. William Schachte Jr., a representative from an oil-industry-funded group called Veterans4Energy. While I have huge respect for Adm. Schachte for his service to the country and his knowledge of his career, the op-ed appears to be but a laundry list of industry talking points — each one easily debunked with a quick Google search.

The “some estimates” that Schachte cites as to how much oil is off our coast refers to an industry-funded study that wrongly counts all technically recoverable oil — not the estimated economically recoverable oil. The industry vastly overestimates the amount of oil that would actually be recovered by including smaller deposits that the drills would never touch because they would not be profitable.

There is only enough economically recoverable oil off the South Carolina coast to provide six days of oil and gas, based on current domestic demand. That’s 144 hours’ worth of fuel. Our tourism economy is worth $4.4 billion per year and accounts for 79,000 jobs in our state. Is that something we’re willing to risk for not even a week’s worth of oil?

Coastal industrialization, inevitable spills, and seismic blasting from oil exploration all put our fisheries, tourism, and recreation at risk. Offshore oil could end our way of life on the coast, and threaten the beauty that visitors from the interior of our state come here to enjoy.

I hope that the people of South Carolina will listen to their neighbors on the coast. One hundred percent of South Carolina coastal municipalities have adopted formal resolutions opposing offshore oil development in the Atlantic. We would bear the brunt of the burden of offshore oil, and reap none of its supposed benefits. But the damages would not be limited to the beach towns and coastal cities. The economic effects would be felt inland as well.

Schachte paints the coastal opposition as “misinformed.” Believe me, as mayors and city councils responsible to our citizens we’ve thoroughly researched this issue. It is not a matter of national security. We have about reached energy independence and we are exporting oil when we used to be dependent on questionable foreign sources. If there was credible evidence that we could bring in the (overinflated) amount of money the oil industry is promising, at zero risk to our economy and way of life, while producing the (exaggerated) number of jobs touted by the oil industry, I think we would be all over it. But their numbers just don’t add up. The industry PR machine consistently downplays the risks and inflates the rewards, all while attacking any science and facts that refute the industry’s position.

The industry knows that the science and the economic realities are not on its side. Using a front organization and a respected veteran as its mouthpiece is nice trick by the oil industry, but it smacks of desperation. I have a veteran friend who would disagree with Veterans4Energy. He happens to be the mayor-elect of Fernandina Beach, Florida, another town that has rejected oil and gas development in the Atlantic. He’s not part of an organization funded by the oil industry. Mayor-elect Johnny Miller is a former Navy sonarman, who has heard, with his own ears, the power of seismic blasts searching for oil deposits under the ocean floor. He intimately understands the threat this blasting poses to marine mammals and fisheries — critical components of our tourism industry.

He went with me to Washington last month with other coastal leaders and numerous business representatives. We took our message to federal decision makers: we must not allow Big Oil’s misinformation to threaten the economies and well-being of our communities. Jobs will be lost. Fewer people will want to make the beaches their summer destination. The coast will suffer. Tax revenues would decline, and they would not be replaced by oil revenues.

I don’t know how much funding Veterans4Energy receives from the American Petroleum Institute. I’m not sure how much money the oil industry is investing in its PR campaign to open up our pristine waters to oil rigs. I do know that I, my constituents, and many small beach communities and coastal cities like mine, up and down the South Carolina coast don’t have the resources of the oil and gas industry. All we have are our voices. We’re getting louder, and we’re all saying the same thing. No seismic. No drilling. No more oil industry influence in Columbia and Washington.

That’s why I went to Washington. That’s why I will go back. And that’s why the oil industry is running scared.

Billy Keyserling is mayor of the city of Beaufort, S.C.

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