On Jan. 4, the Trump administration released a draft plan that would open nearly all of our nation’s coastal waters to seismic testing, offshore oil and gas drilling and exploration. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called it “… a new path for energy dominance in America,” and said the U.S. will “become the strongest energy superpower.”
No one knows whether these statements are accurate, but as Hilton Head Islanders, we do know what we hold true and what we value as a community.
In introducing the plan, the Interior Department announced a 60-day public comment period. It’s time to tell the president that this proposal is detrimental to our environment, our economy, our quality of life and our future. Online commenting begins Jan. 8.
In early 2016 our Hilton Head Island Town Council voted unanimously to oppose seismic testing off the coast of South Carolina. We joined the chorus of coastal states and communities crying out when the Obama administration considered — and then abandoned in the face of the outcry — a five-year plan to permit drilling in the Atlantic from Virginia to Georgia.
Our vote reflected an overwhelming response from our citizens who told us they believe such testing is in opposition to our community’s longstanding legacy of environmental stewardship. We are adamant in our commitment to current and future generations to protect the marine and aquatic wildlife that inhabit our waters and shores.
Just how harmful would seismic testing be?
Seismic air-guns would fire intense blasts of compressed air, one of the loudest human-made sounds in the ocean. The blasts can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source and can occur as frequently as every 10 seconds, for days, weeks or months at a time. They are loud enough to cause a range of impacts on both aquatic life and marine mammals. According to the federal government’s own data, the proposed surveys in the Atlantic Ocean could injure as many as 138,000 marine mammals while disturbing vital activities, including broad habitat displacement and disruption of behaviors essential to breeding, of millions more.
And that would be just the first detrimental step.
Seismic surveys would be followed by the drilling of exploratory wells to definitively determine the presence of sub-sea oil and gas deposits. We all remember well in 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon rig was in the final stages of exploratory drilling when disaster struck. Eleven people died and 4.9 million barrels of oil contaminated the Gulf of Mexico and the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. It was the worst environmental tragedy in our American history with effects that will last for decades.
As a result of the BP blowout, leisure spending in Louisiana dropped by $247 million in 2010 and the well was still leaking two years later. As a coastal community heavily reliant on tourism, Hilton Head is greatly concerned with the threat any oil and gas development efforts off our shores would have on our economy and the many businesses that call this Island home. We are part of nearly 80,000 jobs and more than $7 billion in economic activity supported by fisheries and ocean based tourism and recreation in South Carolina alone.
Seismic testing and offshore drilling represent clear conflicts for the economic and environmental welfare currently enjoyed by hundreds of Atlantic coastal communities from Virginia to Florida. We are working diligently to protect our environment and our quality of life — the very features that make Hilton Head the special place it is, known the world round. What we have is beautiful. Why would we ever risk that for unproven promises of future gain and glory?
David Bennett is mayor of the Town of Hilton Head Island.