CHARLESTON - South Carolinians are sharing strong and sharply different opinions with the federal government about the prospect of oil derricks going up off the state's coast.
Dozens of residents have commented as the federal Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management begins the process of deciding where to issue new oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf should between 2017 and 2022. Friday was the last day for comment.
The comments come from a variety of sources: elected officials, businesspeople, environmental groups and just plain folks.
Those in favor say coastal energy will bring jobs and tax revenues. Opponents worry about the impact of drilling on the environment, including spills that could damage the state's beaches, which are the heart of South Carolina's $18 billion tourism industry.
Connie Gillette, a spokeswoman for the federal agency, said the nation's entire continental shelf is first considered for possible leases and public comment is solicited.
The number of areas will be narrowed in what is called a draft proposed program to be released by early next year. The list will be winnowed twice again before the secretary of the interior approves a final map of lease areas. The process takes up to three years.
A sampling of comments from South Carolina on the agency's website:
• "Prematurely excluding Mid-, South-, and North Atlantic planning areas would deny citizens and businesses in Atlantic Coast states and beyond from a major opportunity to realize significant economic and societal benefits for many years to come." - State Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek.
• "Our economy along the South Carolina coast is heavily dependent on tourism and the chance that a large part of our livelihood could be jeopardized by the senseless actions of greedy corporations makes me sick! Please do not allow the oil and gas companies access to these leases!" - Pam Hricik of Mount Pleasant.
• "I believe energy exploration and utilization in the Atlantic is a step in the right direction. I can't begin to tell you how much industry of this caliber would benefit our area." - State. Rep. Heater Crawford, R-Myrtle Beach.
• "Oil is still turning up on the beaches of the Gulf despite a massive cleanup effort. The benefit is not worth the risk, especially considering the new oil and gas reserves being developed by hydraulic fracturing." - David Cannon, Edisto Beach Property Owners Association.
• "We urge your agency to include the Atlantic states in the next 5 Year Program so African Americans in our state can fully participate and contribute to the energy renaissance taking place in so many areas of the country."- Stephen Gilchrist, chairman of the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce.
• "Even without a catastrophe like the one that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, the daily assaults on the local environment caused by oil and gas development would damage our local economies and way of life." - Sierra Weaver of the Southern Environmental Law Center, representing 27 citizens groups in four states, including six in South Carolina.