When Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling scans the horizon of his city, he doesn't see a place for oil rigs.
He fears the impact offshore drilling operations could have on South Carolina's coastal tourism.
He doesn't understand why the state would threaten an actual moneymaker -- tourism -- to prospect for oil and natural gas riches that might never pan out.
Keyserling is not alone, but he is in the minority.
Most of South Carolina's political leadership favors offshore energy production. And a poll, paid for by oil lobbyists, says 77 percent of South Carolinians support offshore drilling.
But what concerns Keyserling and others involved in South Carolina energy policy is that South Carolina won't have a say in whether oil rigs set up off the coast.
Ultimately, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will make that decision based on the results of seismic testing that could begin as early as next year. If the government decides there is enough accessible oil and natural gas off the coast to warrant drilling, it will lease the waters to oil companies.
South Carolina's huge coastal tourism and fishing industries could be put at risk by a decision that's out of the state's hands, drilling opponents say.
"South Carolina policymakers, the public, won't get to see the data collected from the seismic testing, so we're completely left out of any cost-benefit analysis, any type of open dialogue about 'OK, this is what's out there, should we go and allow for oil and gas development?'" said Hamilton Davis, energy and climate director for the Coastal Conservation League.
U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston, said the federal government should balance energy needs with regulation and input from state and local governments. Sanford said he opposes offshore drilling for oil along South Carolina's coast, preferring natural gas production to oil.
Other key policymakers in South Carolina have thrown their support behind the industry. Gov. Nikki Haley has joined a coalition of coastal-state governors in favor of offshore drilling. And U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott have authored pro-drilling bills in Congress. All are Republicans.
With the government opening up Atlantic coastal waters for testing for the first time since the 1980s, advocates say now is the time to find out once and for all whether readily accessible oil exists there.
"How do we know, because we're relying on 30-year-old technology?" U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, asked. "Until we actually do some 21st century technology seismic work out there, how do we know?
"I want to take that next step to see what might be out there."
Those concerned about the impact oil rigs could have on the coast don't just fear the big disasters like the Gulf's Deepwater Horizon leak in 2010.
It's the day-to-day leaks and spills from infrastructure that could forever change the beaches and coastal wetlands and cost tourism, said Chris Descherer, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charleston.
"I've been to beaches on the Gulf Coast where you walk on the beach and there's tar balls, but we don't have that on the Atlantic Coast, and that's part of what makes it special," he said.
Hilton Head Island Mayor Drew Laughlin said the local impact of offshore drilling should be assessed, for example, by examining currents and possible oil rig locations.
"They have to be real sure offshore drilling would not have a negative impact on tourism," he said.
Keyserling said there's no room for the oil companies in Beaufort.
"I think it is a huge threat without a whole lot of justification," Keyserling said. "What is the impact to tourism of oil rigs? What is the impact on tourism of an accident, God forbid?"
Duncan said he believes oil and gas can coexist with coastal fishing and tourism.
The oil rigs would be beyond sight lines from the beach -- 75 to 100 miles offshore, he said -- but would mostly operate in relatively shallow waters off the South Carolina coast, as opposed to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon operation in the Gulf, where the well was 5,000 feet below the surface.
Sanford hopes to keep oil rigs from popping up close to land. He authored an amendment to the offshore drilling bills that would extend states' jurisdiction past their coastlines from 3 miles to 12 miles. Sanford said similar jurisdictions are already in place in oil-producing coastal states, such as Texas.
Without the amendment, there would be nothing local and state officials could do to stop a company from placing an oil rig a few miles offshore -- something that would have a detrimental effect if it were clearly visible to vacationers in areas like Sea Pines, he said.
Environmentalists also warn that the seismic surveys companies may conduct starting next year could kill or injure thousands of whales, dolphins and other marine life, while proponents such as Duncan say seismic testing has been going on for decades off the U.S. coast with no repercussions.
Companies use air guns to shoot sound waves that penetrate the ocean floor and create an image that geologists can use to map likely oil and gas deposits.
The blasts can cause deafness, and since whales and dolphins use hearing to communicate and search for food, it could lead to their deaths, according to nonprofit environmental group Oceana.
Seismic testing could affect up to 138,500 marine mammals in the Atlantic, but the effect for most marine mammals would be avoidance of the testing areas or feeding disruption, according to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
Nine companies have filed permit requests to survey the Atlantic waters, said Erik Milito, a spokesman for the oil lobbyist American Petroleum Institute.
"They can explore all they want, but the geology off our coast doesn't yield oil," said Michael Colgan, a geologist at the College of Charleston.
The Atlantic basins off the South Carolina coast aren't deep enough to create the pressure and heat needed to change organic material to oil, Colgan said.
Oil companies drilled 51 test wells off the East Coast in the mid-1980s before Congress put a moratorium on Atlantic oil exploration. Based on those tests, BOEM estimates 4.72 billion barrels of oil and 37.51 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lie beneath coastal waters.
James Knapp, a professor of earth and ocean sciences at the University of South Carolina, testified before Congress in January that "these estimates are undoubtedly conservative."
"We need to get out there, collect the new surveys and evaluate those," Knapp, who explored for oil for Shell in the Gulf of Mexico from 1988 to 1991, told The Greenville News. "Maybe the conclusion is there's not an economically viable resource. I tend to doubt that."
The industry wants Atlantic drilling allowed as soon as 2017.
And South Carolina congressmen are leading the charge.
Graham, Scott and Duncan have each introduced bills to allow Atlantic drilling in the next five-year plan, which starts in 2017.
The oil industry would add 11,000 jobs in oil-related fields to South Carolina by 2035 if Atlantic oil and natural gas resources are developed, according to the American Petroleum Institute.
The Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce has not yet taken a position on offshore drilling, but its government affairs committee will continue monitoring developments, spokeswoman Charlie Clark said.
Oil rigs and resources benefit Big Oil, but they don't serve the local purpose, said Mayor Keyserling.
"If I'm a tourist and I'm going to a beach and I'm taking my family in the water, it can be the safest operation in the world, but would I take my kids out in the water?" Keyserling said. "I doubt it."
Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette staff writer Matt McNab contributed to this report.