To drill or not to drill? Potential oil exploration off SC shores

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The Trump Administration's oil and gas exploration proposal includes nearly the entire U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. It would mean 19 lease sales off Alaska's coast, 7 in the Pacific, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and 9 in the Atlantic region, according to the Department of the Interior. It's the most ever proposed for a 5-year schedule, 2019-2024. 

It's caused waves of controversy across the Palmetto State, as Governor Henry McMaster requests a waiver from the program for South Carolina to be exempt. Florida has already secured a waiver.

Some are supportive of the move. In Edisto Beach, 20+ year resident and Mayor Jane Darby fears oil testing and drilling would ruin the beach and way of life.

"We actually can shake from a sonic boom from Beaufort, and because of the way that our homes are built, so we're very fearful of our way of life being impacted," Darby says.

She worries over the marine life under seismic testing; at the thought of potential spills or accidents, Darby says her beloved escape-turned-home could lose population, and tourism dollars and jobs.

"All of that's my backyard, let me put it to you that way, and I think it would be very detrimental," she says.

Off the Atlantic coast, the Trump Administration proposes 9 leases for oil and gas exploration; three of those would be for the Mid- Atlantic, and three for the South Atlantic.

Some, including the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce, believe it's an opportunity, and that jobs will be brought in.

"There are blighted areas along the coast that have been historically in decline for many, many years and we welcome opportunity like offshore drilling to help come in and revitalize some of that," Chamber President Stephen Gilchrist says.

The American Petroleum Institute claims that oil industry already supports 67,600 jobs in South Carolina, as of 2015.

On the testing, South Carolina Chamber of Commerce President Ted Pitts says "South Carolina ought to remain open to it," and that testing should go forward in order to have an educated decision on whether to drill. Pitts calls it "shortsighted" not to go forward.

Governor Henry McMaster wrote to the Department of the Interior on Tuesday, requesting South Carolina be exempt from it.

In his letter, he says, "our coastline is not an industrial working coastline as in some other states. It is just the opposite," and, "it is my duty to future generations to protect our most precious assets and to make decisions consistent with South Carolina's strong conservation ethos."

Darby backs McMaster on this, pointing out what she considers a rare gem of a coastline in South Carolina.

"This is almost like the last frontier. When you have no place else to go, you come to Edisto for the peace and quiet," she says.

There is no word yet on any response to McMaster's request for an exemption from the Trump Administration.

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