FAQ: The Skinny on Offshore Drilling

February 20, 2015


As we continue to advocate offshore energy exploration because of the huge opportunities it could create for SC, there are also many important questions we need to answer. Tough questions that deserve hard thought as we decide what’s the very best policy for our state. Below are some of the most pressing of those questions, and our answers.

Why is new energy exploration important?
While America is producing more and importing less oil and natural gas that in years past, with major problems in Russia, South America and violent unrest in the Middle East, we are still far too dependent on foreign oil.  Meanwhile, we are ignoring 87% of our own offshore acreage and with outdated maps in hand are not even sure what is out there. To be truly energy independent, we must maximize the areas of exploration to improve the odds of finding secure resources.6

Won’t oil rigs be visible from our beaches, affecting tourism?

No, oil rigs would be well beyond sight lines from the beach — 75-100 miles offshore.  South Carolina’s scenic beauty would be preserved intact, with major onshore infrastructure centering around existing development, such as our ports.

What about the danger of a spill like the Deepwater Horizon disaster?
While environmental risk is never entirely out of the question, a Deepwater Horizon-type incident is highly unlikely. In addition to continuing improvements in technology since then, the Deepwater Horizon rig operated 5,000 feet below the surface. This is a far different environment than South Carolina where operations would be in much shallower waters. This, along with vast coastline, is why South Carolina is in such a favorable position. The Considine analysis finds the likelihood of environmental damage unlikely and well worth any potential risk in his formal cost/benefit analysis.

Some experts say there isn’t any oil off the coast of South Carolina, so is mapping a waste of time?
Many of the same arguments were made about the presence of oil in the Gulf, and those estimates were off by a factor of 5:1 (9 billion barrels projected vs 45 billion actual). Dr. James Knapp, a Professor in the Department of Earth & Ocean Sciences at the University of South Carolina testified before Congress that estimates he has seen on South Atlantic oil and gas from Quest Offshore Resources4 appear to be very conservative (low).5

Will the researchers be using “sonic cannons” that might injure wildlife?
Researchers use air guns (nefariously dubbed “sonic cannons” by environmental activists) to produce sound waves that reach the ocean floor that scientists can then use to map the size and location of resources. There is no evidence that seismic instruments have injured animals and in fact, sea life seems to avoid an area during these seismic tests. Research vessels also follow strict safety protocols, sending out less powerful signals before actual seismic tests begin in order to warn away dolphins, whales and the like.

Shouldn’t we invest in “greener” resources like wind and solar?
Yes and no.  While the key to energy independence and a thriving environment is a diverse energy portfolio, alternative energy sources are far from ready to sustain the entire American economy and our way of life.  Oil, natural gas, coal, wind, biomass, nuclear and other energy sources are all essential to an “all of the above” strategy that meets our energy needs and strengthens our national security.

Are state and local prerogatives protected during the lease sale process?
Yes, under current law, both the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act require input and consultation from state, local and military officials and other interested parties or stakeholders. The Department of the Interior closely coordinates with state and local governments throughout every stage of the leasing process, from planning to exploration and production.  In fact, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management recently reached out to South Carolina and other coastal states to gauge interest and concerns prior to formulating the next offshore energy leasing plan.