Coastal elected officials use fear rhetoric to frame drilling issue

Coastal elected officials use fear rhetoric to frame drilling issue
December 03 17:32 2017 Print This Article

Charleston-area elected officials used the rhetoric of fear at a committee hearing on offshore drilling at the South Carolina House of Representatives last week. Folly Beach Mayor Tim Godwin asked the bi-partisan ad-hoc committee, “What city, what beach, what town are you willing to destroy?” There is no evidence that offshore drilling anywhere around the world has destroyed a beach.

The coastal elected officials and their campaign donors are heavily influenced by environmental lobbying groups, including the Coastal Conservation League. They often parrot the group’s talking points. The environmental lobby likes to point to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill as an example of total environmental disaster. The truth is, less than one year after the 2010 spill, tourism along the beaches of the Gulf Coast had completely recovered. Fisheries have also been completely restored in the region.

There was a barge oil spill in the Cooper River in 2002. I recall a seeing picture oil-stained spartina grass in salt marshes on James Island after the spill. After several weeks, the oil was completely gone – metabolized by indigenous bacteria. In fact, there is approximately 1 million barrels (42 gallons per barrel) of oil which naturally seeps into the floor of the Gulf of Mexico each year and is gobbled up by bacteria.

Many geologists believe that the South Carolina coast is more likely to have natural gas deposits than oil. A leak in a natural gas well would dissipate into the the ocean and would not even have a short-term impact on beaches. The natural gas could be piped to the mainland along the ocean floor. The possibility also exists to open a liquified natural gas terminal in Georgetown and export natural gas to Europe, which now largely depends on Russia for its supply.

There is also a big difference between the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and potential rigs off of the South Carolina coast. The Deepwater Horizon rig is at 5000-foot depth (about one mile), whereas the potential South Carolina rigs would be located about 60 miles offshore at a depth of about 600 feet near the Outer Continental Shelf. Shallow rigs are much easier to maintain. There has been significant improvement to oil rig technology and safety standards since the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

Our local elected officials are depending on a lack of public understanding of the oil and gas industry and the rhetoric of fear to try to crystalize public opinion against offshore drilling.   President Donald Trump has strongly promoted offshore drilling as an economic growth opportunity and a national security issue. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Energy Secretary Rick Perry frequently speak of American “energy dominance.” While the ultimate decision to grant offshore leases will be made by Congress, we need to make decisions on this issue on the basis of facts, not fear. The potential state and local royalties from the leases could be used for beach re-nourishment projects and upgrading our failing drainage system.