holding hands 2.jpg (copy)

Hundreds of people joined hands on Folly Beach to show their opposition to offshore oil exploration during the eighth annual Hands Across the Sand event on May 20, 2017. File/Staff

Outdoor activities and the industries that support them are a big business in South Carolina. So says a recent federal report comparing the economic contribution that outdoor recreation makes in each state. It found that South Carolina ranks 12th in the nation — and third on the East Coast behind Maine and Florida — for the proportion of its total economy devoted to outdoor recreation.

The news is a cause for both a celebration and a warning. We need to protect the state’s outdoor environment.

As The Post and Courier’s John McDermott noted Saturday, the outdoor recreation category includes many different activities, “from camping to concerts to boat building ... .” In South Carolina, the largest contribution comes, unsurprisingly, from boating and fishing, followed by activities related to recreational vehicles and sports such as golf and tennis.

The pioneering study by the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the federal Commerce Department should be of particular interest to those defending South Carolina’s coastal environment against offshore oil and natural gas exploration. It shows how important outdoor recreation is to the South Carolina economy compared to states such as Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana that have both extensive shorelines and offshore oil production.

In sheer volume of revenue from outdoor recreation, South Carolina leads these three states by significant amounts.

Outdoor recreation activities in 2017 employed 101,274 people in South Carolina, far outstripping outdoor recreation employment in Alabama and Louisiana and amounting to more than three times as many jobs as in Mississippi. Outdoor recreation payrolls were nearly 40 percent higher than in Louisiana, more than 70 percent higher than in Alabama and more than three times higher than in Mississippi.

Get a weekly recap of South Carolina opinion and analysis from The Post and Courier in your inbox on Monday evenings.

It makes sense. Outdoor recreation spending is increasing nearly 4 percent a year across the nation and is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. It brought the state close to $7 billion in economic activity in 2017. There is no question that a large share of the South Carolina outdoor recreation employment and economic benefit is in the Lowcountry and that it would be at risk if the oil industry invades the coast. That risk should be quantified.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis has asked for comments on its outdoor recreation study. Our state government should follow up with a detailed look at the distribution of outdoor recreation jobs and economic activity across the state.

Meanwhile, bear in mind the overall picture as presented by the BEA study the next time a proponent of offshore drilling says that bringing the oil industry to South Carolina would add 30,000 jobs and billions of dollars to the state economy as the website of pro-drilling Explore Offshore South Carolina claims. If the experience of the Gulf Coast states is any example, the losses to the outdoor recreation economy and employment picture, to say nothing of losses from tourism and commercial fisheries, would outweigh any gains.

Keep the Palmetto State the precious playground that it is. Keep oil and gas exploration away from South Carolina.