Residents organizing against offshore testing, drilling

Rita Langley, Sarah Church and Sydney Cook, of Sullivan’s Island, are the organizers behind Don’t Drill Lowcountry.

The next wave of opposition to offshore testing for oil and gas deposits and drilling is emerging — grassroots groups looking to amass voter numbers to sway government officials.

Don’t Drill Lowcountry plans a launch-party meeting Tuesday with addresses by drilling opponents U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford and state Sen. Chip Campsen. The meeting, open to the public, is at 6:30 p.m. at the Charleston Harbor Resort Yacht Club, 32 Patriots Point Road in Mount Pleasant.

Resident groups have begun coalescing in the Carolinas after at least 40 community governments in the two states have come out against the proposed drilling, along with hundreds of businesses and business groups.

A coalition of governors, including Gov. Nikki Haley, worked largely behind the scenes with industry lobbyists to urge federal officials in the Obama administration to open the Southeast coast to oil and natural gas testing and drilling. In January, the Interior Department included the region in its proposed areas for five-year leases that would open the waters to exploration with repeated blasts of seismic guns 50 miles or more offshore.

Most state political figures and others support exploring for potential economic benefits, even though the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has concluded that the work “may result in low immediate economic benefits for nearby communities.”

The leases would open up swaths of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Arctic for new oil and gas development. Meanwhile, a bill now in the U.S. Senate would give states the option to open up their own waters to testing closer the shore.

The issue cuts to the heart of coastal life, where people appear to largely support curbing exploration to protect marine life and a billion-dollar tourism economy. Industry spokespeople have argued that the work can be conducted while ensuring the safety of marine animals.

The group formed because “people are desperate for information. They don’t know what they can do to help. They feel powerless. It’s almost a vacuum,” said Sydney Cook, of Sullivan’s Island, one of the organizers.

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