May 30, 2019
Heather Richards, E&E News reporter
South Carolina dollars won’t be going into offshore drilling actions — at least not for the next year.
Gov. Henry McMaster (R) signed the state’s budget bill yesterday, including a proviso from the largely conservative South Carolina Legislature to ban state and local monies for planning, permitting or leasing in relation to offshore oil and gas — effectively stranding any offshore development.
Offshore drilling has drawn the attention of a number of states since the Interior Department proposed a five-year drilling plan expanding the current offshore industry in the U.S. — largely located in the Gulf of Mexico — to more than 90% of federal waters, including portions of the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Included in that proposal were waters off states like South Carolina (E&E News PM, April 25).
Interior has put the plan on hold as a legal battle between environmental groups and the president continues over Arctic drilling (Energywire, May 29). But environmental groups and other opponents of offshore drilling continue to stake out their offense to potential future moves from the administration.
Frank Knapp, president of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said the debate over expanding offshore drilling may find its ground zero in conservative South Carolina.
“This is huge,” he said. “You have to remember we are a very deeply red state.”
The coastal state’s current governor has been an outspoken critic of offshore development for South Carolina, an reversal of the position of former Gov. Nikki Haley (R) (Energywire, Jan. 14).
In a news conference on the spending ban a few weeks ago, McMaster suggested that South Carolina’s “soft” coast wasn’t appropriate for development.
“Governor McMaster will do whatever it takes to make sure we never see offshore drilling or seismic testing off of South Carolina’s coast,” the governor’s spokesman, Brian Symmes, said in an email yesterday. “This proviso gives us another tool in our toolbox to protect our coast from the potentially devastating consequences that could result from drilling.”
There are South Carolina supporters for industry expansion off the coast.
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R) has been a fervent supporter. In an energy policy section on his website, the representative noted that the path to energy independence for the country is through offshore.
“The majority of our water is off limits,” he wrote. “We are one of the only countries refusing to utilize our own natural resources for energy, whether it be renewable energy sources or fossil fuels.”
South Carolina’s ban on spending for the industry is limited to one year, but offshore opponents say this is just a first step.
Samantha Siegel, the senior Southeast organizer for Oceana, an environmental group that strongly opposes offshore development, said a long-term stance against offshore development at the state level is gathering momentum.
“We are definitely not stopping at one year,” she said. “It’s just the most impactful thing we could do this session to immediately protect our coast from drilling.”