Sen. Lindsey Graham's plan would open S.C. coast to offshore drilling

 

The State (Columbia, S.C.)

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham revealed his plan Monday to open South Carolina’s coast to offshore oil and natural gas drilling — and have the state share in any profits from strikes of fossil fuels.

Graham, R-S.C., said at a news conference in Columbia’s Five Points he has introduced a bill giving South Carolina the option to allow for oil and gas exploration from 10 to 50 miles offshore. No drilling would be allowed within 10 miles of the coast.

Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., endorsed his proposal, but the plan drew plenty of criticism Monday from environmentalists, a small business group and a coastal geologist.

Environmentalists called the plan an election year stunt in a state with little offshore oil and hard-to-extract natural gas deposits. Critics said Graham’s plan would unnecessarily threaten the environment, and the state’s multibillion-dollar coastal tourism industry, in the search for small quantities of the fossil fuels. A small band of protesters waved signs outside the news conference before heavy rains sent them indoors.

Conservationists say oil spills could hurt resorts, such as Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island. They also say exploration could kill thousands of whales and dolphins.

But Graham — who in the past opposed offshore oil drilling — said looking for oil and gas is worth a try to gain energy independence from hostile nations. He said his plan would be sensitive to the environment, although Graham acknowledged that drilling has risks.

“I can’t promise America that we can get out of this mess without ... taking some risks,’’ Graham said. “The risk we’re trying to avoid is perpetual energy dependence.”

If federal policies change for oil and gas exploration, “we could become more (energy) independent literally in a matter of years,’’ he said.

The governor and the S.C. Legislature would determine whether exploration for oil and gas could occur within the 10-to-50-mile area, as well as where it would occur. He introduced legislation later Monday in the U.S. Senate.

Monday’s announcement occurred at the same time big business groups released a report showing offshore drilling could create thousands of jobs and annually produce $87.5 million from sales, income and royalty taxes. The 18-page report was produced by Miley and Associates for the Palmetto Agribusiness Council, S.C. Citizens for Sound Conservation and the S.C. Energy Forum, a group with ties to the American Petroleum Institute.

The Graham bill would allow South Carolina to keep 37.5 percent of revenues from oil and gas that is found off the coast. Another 50 percent would go to reduce the federal debt and 12.5 percent would go to a federal fund that protects land for conservation, according to Graham’s plan.

Duncan said he plans to introduce similar legislation in the U.S. House.

The state of Virginia already has such a plan, but that was halted by the Obama administration after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Critics said Graham’s plan focuses on the use of dwindling fossil fuels, when the nation needs to look more aggressively at alternative energy sources, including non-polluting wind and solar power.

“We’re not trying anything but fossil fuels in this state,” state Sierra Club representative Susan Corbett said. “There has been virtually no investment in any alternative energy or energy efficiency that are the true home-grown, independent sources of energy.”

Mitchell Colgan, a College of Charleston geologist, and the S.C. Coastal Conservation League’s Hamilton Davis said the legislation seems politically motivated. Exploration off the coast in the 1970s and 1980s revealed little oil. The amount of oil that could be squeezed from the ocean would be a tiny percentage of what states like Alaska and Texas produce, Colgan said.

Natural gas that does exist is in a form that is hard to extract, he said.

“The only people clamoring for offshore drilling in South Carolina are the politicians,’’ said Colgan, who formerly worked for the Shell oil company. “You don’t see Shell or Exxon or the other major oil companies interested in what we have offshore. For South Carolina to talk drilling for oil, it’s political and not scientific.’’

Officials with the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce also voiced reservations. But Graham, who said he also backs alternate energy development, said his idea only makes sense.

He blamed President Barack Obama for failing to move aggressively to pursue offshore oil and gas reserves. He said the oil and gas industry could provide thousands of jobs, more than the Boeing aircraft plant in North Charleston and the BMW car manufacturer in the Greenville area.

“Off the coast of South Carolina, we have oil and gas deposits ... that will allow this nation to become more energy independent, that would create more jobs in South Carolina than Boeing and BMW combined, and would because of the nature of the legislation create a revenue stream for the state of South Carolina.”

Those backing the Graham plan include representatives of some of the state’s biggest business organizations, including the S.C. Chamber of Commerce. An estimated 150 people attended a luncheon at Saluda’s restaurant to discuss the plan after Graham’s news conference.

The Associated Press contributed.

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
This undated photo obtained from the Department of Homeland Security shows former Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards. A Senate subcommittee says Edwards was too cozy with the political appointees of President Barack Obama whose activities he was supposed to oversee. A 27-page report from a Senate homeland security subcommittee says Charles Edwards improperly rewrote, delayed or classified reports to accommodate the department. It says he also asked for guidance from senior Homeland Security Department officials instead of his own staff.

    Ex-DHS watchdog put on leave after critical report

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson put his agency's former internal watchdog on leave within hours of the publication of a Senate report that concluded the employee was too cozy with senior agency officials and delayed or classified some critical reports to accommodate President Barack Obama's political appointees.

  •  
FILE - This July 18, 2008 file photo shows the calories of each food item at a McDonalds drive-thru menu in New York. Diners could soon see calorie counts on menus of chain restaurants. But what about the roasted chicken sold at grocery stores, or the hot dogs convenience stores sell? Will movie theaters have to tell patrons the number of calories in a giant soda and bucket of popcorn? The food industry is closely watching the Food and Drug Administration to see which establishments are included in the final menu labeling rules, expected this year.

    Where will calorie labels appear? Not just menus

    Diners could soon see calorie counts on the menus of chain restaurants.

  •  
FILE - Col. Elspeth Ritchie, a doctor in the Office of the Army Surgeon General, discusses efforts to study and understand suicide among American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, in this May 29, 2008 file photo, during a news conference at the Pentagon. The Pentagon plans to release a report Friday April 25, 2014on military suicides. But those numbers differ a bit from the totals provided by the services because of complicated accounting changes in how the department counts suicides by reservists.

    Number of military suicides dropped last year

    Suicides across the military dropped by more than 15 percent last year, but new detailed data reveals an increase in the number of Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers who took their own lives.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category