Oil drilling off South Carolina coast exciting, scary
With time running out in this year’s legislative session, state lawmakers opposed to offshore oil drilling are using another tactic to fight President Donald Trump’s push for exploration and drilling along the South Carolina coast.
Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, said he’ll use the state budget to combat oil drilling. He’s introducing a budget proviso that he thinks will be a faster way to stop Trump administration plans in South Carolina, instead of waiting on bills to pass both chambers of the Legislature.
The proviso, like several bills introduced in the House and Senate, would prevent oil companies from installing pipes, tanks or other equipment on land to support offshore drilling. Bills to halt drilling won’t pass the Legislature this year, but the budget must be adopted — and a proviso is a quicker route, Campsen says.
The proviso was adopted by the Senate on a 40-4 vote Wednesday night. It now must go to the House for a vote. The proviso would be good for one year but could be renewed next year, Campsen said. The legislative session ends next month.
“It is the only way that we can get a ban on that infrastructure in place this year,’’ Campsen said during a morning news conference with Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson, Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, and others. “We can follow up with a permanent law change next year. Or we can put the same proviso in the budget next year. ‘’
In addition to Campsen’s plan, McMaster said he will again talk with the Trump administration about the governor’s opposition to offshore oil drilling. McMaster told The State after the news conference that he’s already made his opposition known to incoming Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Discussions with former Secretary Ryan Zinke went nowhere.
“I’ve communicated a little with the new guy in office,’’ said McMaster, who is a Trump supporter.
Offshore drilling is a hot button issue in South Carolina, where every coastal city has come out against seismic testing and drilling because of its potential to pollute the ocean and beaches that anchor the state’s $20 billion tourism economy.
Campsen said oil drilling and the industrial facilities needed to support it could wreck the state’s wildlife refuges, beaches and tourism economy. Vacation hotspots in South Carolina include the seashores of Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island, as well as beaches and marshes around Charleston.
Some inland lawmakers favor drilling as a way to create thousands of jobs and bring revenues to South Carolina, arguing that it can be done without much environmental harm. The American Petroleum Institute won’t support Campsen’s budget proviso, said Mark Harmon, the organization’s South Carolina representative.
“We feel like the benefits are there’’ if the state establishes an oil industry offshore, he said, adding that Campsen’s effort “would impede and limit our ability to benefit locally.’’
During his administration, President Barack Obama first considered allowing drilling off the Atlantic coast, then dropped the plan in the face of intense opposition from communities in East Coast states, including South Carolina. But President Trump has rekindled those efforts to allow seismic testing for oil and natural gas, as well as drilling. His plan was released last year and could be finalized by next year.
Trump’s efforts prompted nine environmental groups and attorneys general from 10 states — including South Carolina’s Wilson — to sue the federal government to halt the search for oil.
McMaster has consistently voiced opposition to seismic testing and drilling. Statewide, 56 percent of the people oppose offshore drilling and 61 percent are against seismic testing, a recent Winthrop University poll found.