EDITORIAL: Take a stand on offshore drilling

THE ISSUE: The U.S. Department of the Interior will begin a five-year plan to develop 90 percent of our nation’s waters for offshore drilling

OUR TAKE: This is a serious proposal that demands local comment before it becomes a threat to tourism, recreation and local business.

TAKE ACTION: Send your comments to the Department of the Interior at www.boem.gov/National-Program-Comment. Call Sen. Mark Sanford at 843-352-7572. Call Sen. Tim Scott at 843-727-4525. Call Sen. Lindsey Graham at 843-849-3887.

In a draft released Thursday by the Department of the Interior, a five-year plan beginning in 2019 includes oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf, expanding future oil and gas leasing to the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans as well as the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

It’s unclear whether this is just saber rattling by the president or a real plan to allow oil rigs to dot the horizon off our beaches.

One thing is for sure, any oilfield development would disrupt local tourism and both commercial and recreational fishing.

“The issue for me has ultimately always been about local control,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford last week. “Whether you are for or against offshore drilling, I think we could all agree that locals should have some degree of voice on what happens in their backyard."

We agree. A unilateral decision by the White House to open South Carolina’s waters to oil drilling is wrong thinking.

Like the mountains of the West, the thick forests of the Northwest, the ripe prairies of our country’s interior, the mineral rich mountains of Appalachia or the blue water fisheries of the Northeast, South Carolina’s resources must be guarded by wise stewards.

“I think it speaks very loudly that every single coastal municipality in South Carolina - and over 140 municipalities along the East Coast - have formally opposed oil and gas development off the Atlantic coast,” Sandford said.

Sanford has been one of the most vocal elected officials reacting to the plan, but he is certainly not alone.

To the governors of South Carolina, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida have all called for a meeting with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who released the plan last week.

Local residents have an opportunity to participate in the discussion as well. A 60-day public comment period which began on Monday provides residents the chance to contact the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which oversees any environmental reviews of the plan. Directions on how to comment can be found at www.boem.gov/National-Program-Comment.

Keep in mind the following:

Development of offshore oil fields will effect our maritime environment.

Our already fragile beaches do not need more stress.

Seismic testing or offshore drilling has the potential to hurt local business and recreational opportunities in very real ways.

“This proposal explicitly ignores local opposition because it is the single largest expansion of offshore drilling activity ever proposed,” Sanford said. “In the case of the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf, drilling hasn’t been allowed in over 30 years. I don’t think the arguments in favor of changing this policy are there, particularly when weighed against what most engineers suspect would be at most a four-month supply of oil reserves for our country.”

Neither U.S. Sen. Tim Scott nor U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham have commented on the president’s most recent plan. Both, however, have in the past made comments to the effect that there is a place for offshore drilling in South Carolina’s waters.

We’ve also not heard from our local state representatives and senators, but encourage them to get involved and lead this conversation, which will have a profound effect on our environment and economy.

While the threat of catastrophic disaster such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident - where 11 people died and which left the shorelines of the Gulf Coast states mired in nearly 5 million barrels of oily muck - are rare, they are very real possibilities.

This is especially true considering the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is moving to eliminate drilling safeguards that could increase the likelihood of a spill.

As Lowcountry residents, we have an opportunity to speak out on this issue that would change our life in ways we may not yet understand.