Here they go again.
Months after local elected officials, businessmen and environmentalists won victories over the prospect of offshore drilling, their campaign has been revived. President Donald Trump signed an order Friday that could reverse previous administration directives and reopen the Atlantic to offshore drilling.
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling and state Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, spoke against offshore drilling and airgun testing for potential oil reserves during a gathering hosted by the Coastal Conservation League on Friday morning in the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Port Royal Mayor Sam Murray also attended in support of the opposition.
“We’re going to fight this, and we’re going to again win,” Keyserling said.
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Trump’s order seeks to overturn in part former President Barack Obama’s effort in December to permanently ban drilling in the Arctic and parts of the Atlantic. Trump is also asking for a review of potential drilling locations under the federal five-year oil and gas leasing program.
Under the Obama administration, the Arctic and Atlantic had been removed from the oil and leasing program from 2017 until 2022.
Campsen, an attorney and businessman who, with his family, owns and operates a cruise boat company, said he has seen the required drilling infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico and doesn’t want the same here.
“The risk of an oil spill is real, but it’s a risk — not a certainty,” said Campsen, whose district includes Port Royal and northern Beaufort County’s sea islands. “What is certain is the industrialization of the coast.”
Keyserling helped lead a group of East Coast communities seeking to block Obama administration plans to explore potential oil reserves in the Atlantic. All but one of the state’s coastal municipalities have passed resolutions opposing offshore oil activity.
Thousands of businesses have formed the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, headed by S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce CEO Frank Knapp.
The assembled opponents argued drilling and seismic testing would threaten the state’s tourism economy and ecosystem. The grassroots effort preceded Obama’s protections, though the South Carolina coast wasn’t included in his permanent ban.
“There was no doubt the civic engagement...made a huge difference,” Keyserling said.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told White House reporters Thursday it could take years to review which areas might be opened to to drilling, and that he recognized coastal communities might not want it. In signing the order, Trump said offshore energy would create jobs and move the United States closer to energy independence.
Response to the expected order among environmental groups was swift.
“Let me be clear: All of that would be a huge, bad, stupid mistake,” Jacqueline Savitz, a senior vice president with Oceana, said in a statement. “I doubt President Trump would want to see Mar-a-Lago, or any of his other coastal resorts, covered in oil.”
“There is simply no place along our coast where drilling makes sense,” said John Tynan, director of Conservation Voters of South Carolina.
Beaufort resident Ralph Fabiano sought to stake out an opposing viewpoint during the Waterfront Park gathering. He asked Campsen whether oil mined off the South Carolina coast couldn’t be refined elsewhere and suggested local governments could enact strict rules to ensure any onshore infrastructure here would be operated safely.
“Let’s hear both sides of the story,” Fabiano said. “You heard the senator and the mayor talking about oil pipelines, a refinery — none of that’s planned.
“It’s all hypothetical speculation.”