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Panel: Offshore energy resources key to S.C. growth

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Staff Report
Published Nov. 4, 2015 (Updated 5:37 p.m., Nov. 5, 2015)

Development of offshore energy resources offers South Carolina an opportunity to grow its economy and create jobs, according to panelists at Tuesday’s Atlantic Energy Forum in Columbia.

The panel agreed that an updated assessment of the region’s offshore wind, oil and natural gas resources will play a critical role in future economic development decision-making.

“From creating jobs and economic growth to generating much needed electricity and government revenues, the potential for responsible offshore energy development presents an important opportunity to help drive South Carolina's economy forward,” said Michael Whatley, executive vice president of the Consumer Energy Alliance.

Added Lewis Gossett, president and CEO of the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance: “If we are going to provide jobs to people that maintain quality of life. If we are going to solve economic issues, we have to bring jobs to where people live. And to do that we have to have energy.”

Bringing offshore oil and gas development to South Carolina could boost the economies of smaller coastal counties, said Bill Crowther, president of the Atlantic Energy Alliance, a partnership promoting offshore exploration for oil and natural gas.

“This could make a big impact on the quality of life for the people of Georgetown County,” said Crowther, of Murrells Inlet and former executive director of the executive director of the Georgetown Economic Development Alliance. “It can bring good jobs to the people that need them the most.”

Drilling off the coast of South Carolina, which is supported by Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Lindsey Graham, also is viewed favorably by the public, according to one poll. A recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive among 604 registered South Carolina voters found 71% of respondents supported drilling for oil and gas offshore.

However, 23 towns, cities, and counties in South Carolina have passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling and seismic testing, including Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Georgetown, Columbia, Hilton Head, and all major coastal cities and towns in the state. More than 85 cities and towns along the coast also have passed resolutions in opposition.

Also a number of elected state and federal officials from both political parties such as Republicans U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford and state Sen. Chip Campsen, both of Charleston, and Democratic U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, of Columbia, have voiced opposition to oil exploration and development. Opposition also has been voiced by  business and sportsmen groups such as the International Game Fish Association, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

“South Carolina’s fishing and tourism industry would be put greatly at risk from offshore oil drilling and the seismic air gun blasting that precedes it, which is why hundreds of local businesses in the state stand against this misguided proposal,” said Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce.Putting our small business coastal tourism industry at risk so that petroleum companies can profit is a foolhardy gamble. We hope our elected officials will protect the coastal places South Carolinians love and the economy we depend on.”

Additionally, there’s some doubt oil might be found off the S.C. shore. Back in 1978, oil companies drilled seven wells in the Southeast Georgia Embayment off the coast of Georgia and Florida. All of the wells turned out to be dry holes.

New technology could be used to extract oil and gas from beneath the ocean floor at a competitive cost, advocates say in building their case for oil exploration along the coast as the Obama administration moves toward making a final decision in late 2016.

“Our statutory mandate is to find the balance between developing our natural resources and protecting the marine environment – it will reflected in our five-year (oil and gas leasing) plan and in the Environmental Impact Statement – the goal is to thread the needle as carefully as possible to ensure that our nation gets the energy it needs and that our environment is protected,” said Abigail Hopper, director of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

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