Low­coun­try lead­ers ques­tion oil in­dus­try drilling fig­ures

The Island Packet (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY STEPHEN FAS­TE­NAU sfas­te­[email protected]­land­packet.com

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.”

STEPHEN FAS­TE­NAU sfas­te­[email protected]­fortgazette.com

S.C. Small Busi­ness Cham­ber of Com­merce CEO and pres­i­dent Frank Knapp, cen­ter, ad­dresses re­porters with Beau­fort Mayor Billy Key­ser­ling, left, and Port Royal Sam Mur­ray dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in May in Port Royal. Key­ser­ling has helped spear­head op­po­si­tion to off­shore drilling from lo­cal gov­ern­ments along the coast.

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