U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham revealed his plan Monday to open South Carolinas 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 Columbias 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 Grahams plan would unnecessarily threaten the environment, and the states 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 cant promise America that we can get out of this mess without ... taking some risks, Graham said. The risk were 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.
Mondays 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 Grahams 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 Grahams 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.
Were 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.