December 16, 2016
By SAMMY FRETWELL
COLUMBIA, SC – Small businesses opposed to oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean called Wednesday for Gov. Nikki Haley to switch positions and oppose the offshore search for fossil fuels.
In a letter to be delivered to Haley’s office, the businesses asked Haley to withdraw South Carolina from federal plans for offshore drilling.
One business owner opposed to drilling is Robert Barber, a former state lawmaker who runs a popular Charleston County seafood restaurant at Bowens Island. Pollution from oil and gas drilling could hurt coastal businesses, he and others say.
“We call on Governor Haley to make sure that South Carolina is not included in the federal government’s near-term plans for drilling,” Barber said in a news release.
The federal government ultimately will decide on whether to allow drilling, but the support of governors is considered significant to U.S. officials. A news conference was scheduled to discuss the push to change Haley’s mind. Organizers of the news conference said hundreds of businesses had signed the letter to Haley.
Haley, like many statewide and congressional leaders from South Carolina, has backed oil and gas development in the south Atlantic Ocean, saying it could boost the economy and eventually provide valuable sources of energy.
Her office had no immediate comment Wednesday morning, but said last week she doesn’t want exploration or drilling to be done in a way that would hurt the environment.
Many of the state’s larger business groups, including the Palmetto Agribusiness Council, support searching for oil and gas deposits. Last week, the agribusiness council released highlights of a recent survey showing that 64 percent of the people questioned across South Carolina backed exploration and drilling.
But the dispute over whether to allow offshore oil and gas drilling has become increasingly heated this year as environmental groups have begun grassroots campaigns to thwart the effort.
Since the campaign heated up, more than two dozen local governments on the Palmetto State’s coast have adopted resolutions opposing offshore drilling and seismic testing. The city of Columbia and the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce also have come out against oil and gas drilling along the coast. Cities in North Carolina and Georgia also have opposed the drilling effort.
One of the biggest immediate concerns is the search process. Seismic testing relies on the use of loud cannons to locate oil and gas deposits, but critics say it could harm marine life, such as dolphins and endangered whales.
Many small businesses that rely on fishing and tourism to earn money say the oil and gas search is too risky. Drilling could pollute beaches and hurt South Carolina’s tourism economy, either with offshore oil spills or pollution from the industrial buildup needed to support such an industry.
““Coastal tourism in South Carolina is a small business industry,’’ said Frank Knapp, president of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce. “Offshore seismic testing and drilling is a threat to our thriving coastal tourism economy. That kind of industry is simply incompatible with what attracts our tourists—great beaches, natural wetlands, wildlife, sport fishing and unique and historic coastal cities and towns.”
The federal government is nearing a decision on whether to allow companies to lease areas of the Atlantic Ocean for oil and gas testing. U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston, has broken with many fellow congressional leaders from South Carolina and come out against the search for oil and gas. He is pushing the federal government to slow down the effort and conduct more studies.