Under a proposed plan from President Donald J. Trump’s administration, Beaufort County offshore waters — and most of U.S. federal waters — would soon serve a new purpose: oil and gas drilling.
The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced Thursday a new five-year leasing plan to open up the largest amount of federal waters on record to offshore drilling, including previously protected parts of the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Only some waters off Alaska would be excluded.
In January 2017, the Obama administration shut the door on drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. In April, however, an executive order by Trump required the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to start preparing a new National Outer Continental Shelf Oil & Gas Leasing Program for 2019-2024, which would open parts of the Atlantic to offshore drilling.
Frank Knapp is the president of the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, the leading business organization opposing seismic testing and offshore drilling for oil in the Atlantic.
According to Knapp, organizations and community members against offshore drilling are up against the same fight they were in March 2016, when the Obama administration proposed opening the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas exploration.
“The magnitude of business opposition to drilling in the Atlantic for oil and gas is now far more evident,” Knapp said in a news release. “Drilling for oil inevitably leads to leaks and spills. Whether it means spills the size of Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf or just tar balls washing ashore as is the case along the California coast, drilling for oil is simply inconsistent with our Atlantic Coast economy.”
The latest move, which aims to fulfill Trump’s promise to expand domestic energy production, has raised a large wave of opposition from environmentalists, state officials and business groups.
As it’s currently written, the plan enables private companies to begin drilling in the Atlantic as early as 2020. Seismic testing, which is a way to search for oil and gas deposits, would begin much sooner than.
Diane Hoskins, campaign director at the national environmental organization, said the plan completely disregards the opinions of local stakeholders along the coast.
“The Trump administration’s plan not only ignores the risky nature of dirty and dangerous drilling, but also the people and coastal businesses who would be most affected. The administration’s proposal would put large multinational corporations ahead of coastal residents and healthy ocean-dependent economies,” Hoskins said in a news release.
In U.S. coastal states, 2.2 million American jobs and $108.37 billion in revenues depend on healthy ocean ecosystems, according to the National Ocean Economics Program’s 2016 report.
More than 1,200 local, state and federal elected officials, including Rep. Mark Sanford and Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling, as well as the governors of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon and Washington, have all formally opposed offshore drilling, according the environmental organization Oceana.
Members of the S.C. House of Representative formed a subcommittee last year to look at the pros and cons of leases for offshore testing and drilling. The subcommittee, Off-shore Drilling Ad Hoc Committee, is expected to report back to the Legislature.
Keyserling said that he was not surprised with the recent announcement, but that he was “ready to fight it as much as it takes.”
When the Obama Administration announced plans to open up the Atlantic to drilling in 2016, the City of Beaufort was the first municipality in South Carolina to pass a resolution in opposition. Keyserling said he expects the city council will take a similar measure at their meeting on Tuesday.
“We’re diligently watching and we’re vehemently opposed,” Keyserling said. “It’s not a matter of national security; it’s not a matter of energy needs; it’s a matter of risks and looking for oil that we don’t believe is there.”
Starting Monday, residents, organizations and public officials have 60 days to formally oppose the recent plan.
Want to submit a public comment? Visit https://www.boem.gov/National-Program-Comment/#submitcomments