Lowcountry leaders opposed to offshore drilling off the South Carolina coast pushed back against a recent oil industry report that drilling and exploration could be worth more than a billion dollars to the state.
Tapping oil and natural gas reserves in federal waters could be worth $1.5 billion in tax revenue to South Carolina over 20 years, an American Petroleum Institute report released Nov. 15 said.
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling, who has helped spearhead opposition from local governments along the coast, dismissed the number as not being worth the risk to the state’s tourism economy and jobs.
Oil rig workers would come from out of state and not create local jobs, he said. He noted reports of the possibility seismic testing could disturb discarded military munitions and toxic waste dumped in the Atlantic Ocean by the federal government over the years.
“So no oil, no financial windfall, no jobs, a threat to the environment and a huge threat to the vibrancy of our tourism economy along the coast,” Keyserling said.
Permits from companies asking to perform seismic testing in the Atlantic are still pending. President Donald Trump’s administration has sought to open more waters to offshore drilling and make it easier for companies to explore for oil and gas.
Beaufort County leaders plan to sue to block the permits if they are issued.
Additional tax revenue from the oil industry could help alleviate property taxes and tuition hikes and be used to rebuild roads and bridges, said Mark Harmon, executive director of the S.C. Petroleum Council.
A study released in March said that spending related to the oil industry would amount to $2.2 billion over 20 years.
“The path forward is clear. Year-round revenue streams and high-paying jobs from safely tapping natural gas and oil reserves in federal waters off America’s Atlantic coast are the right choice for South Carolina,” Harmon said in a statement.
Frank Knapp, president of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said coastal governments would receive a maximum of $80 million over 20 years, a nominal number when split among the municipalities. He said spills and leaks would affect property values and tourism jobs and that coastal communities won’t agree to allowing the oil industry to set up shop.
Offshore drilling was a central issue during the campaign for the U.S. 1st Congressional District. Joe Cunningham, a Charleston Democrat recently elected after a tight race with state Rep. Katie Arrington, staunchly opposed the offshore activity and earned the endorsement of numerous coastal mayors, including Keyserling.
“Offshore drilling was on the ballot last Tuesday,” Cunningham tweeted Friday in response to the report. “It didn’t win.”
Local grassroots efforts to oppose offshore drilling and formal votes of opposition from public bodies have had an effect, Keyserling said.
“And the American Petroleum Institute, whose function is to clear the pathway for seismic testing and exploration, is losing ground,” Keyserling said. “So they’re throwing out a figure to try to get people to rethink it, but their figures just don’t match up against the risk.”