Offshore drilling plan would be an economic boon for South Carolina

February 22, 2018

South Carolina is a state teeming with opportunity. A wealth of it, in fact, sits just beneath the surface.

The South Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf, or OCS, off the coast of South Carolina, harbors an abundance of oil and natural gas. This poses a potential economic boon for the state. And OCS drilling capacities could be achieved under optimal safety standards and at minimal environmental cost.

Thankfully, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has announced the next step in opening up the OCS for potential oil and gas exploration.

“Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks,” Zinke said in January. More than 150 members of both the U.S. House of Representatives (including South Carolina’s own Congressman Jeff Duncan) and the U.S. Senate sent letters to Zinke in support of the plan.

“Today’s announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period,” said Zinke. “Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks. The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance.”

A 2015 survey found that 71 percent of registered voters in South Carolina support exploring the OCS’s offshore exploration capacities. And Explore Offshore, a growing coalition of organizations from up and down the East Coast, is backed by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers

The economic gains made possible by OCS energy development could be monumental. A joint study published in 2014 by Palmetto Promise and Interstate Policy Alliance (IPA) concluded that offshore exploration could invite as much as $2.7 billion in new investments and spur approximately 46,000 new jobs by 2035.

Currently, oil and natural gas development is prohibited on 94 percent of offshore federal acreage in the United States. But natural gas use has nearly tripled throughout the past decade. For South Carolina in particular, with one of the highest rates of gasoline consumption in the country, this should inspire an urgent push for reform.

But restrictions on domestic oil and natural gas refinement don’t curb oil sourcing – they simply reroute it. Limited offshore acreage amid soaring demand necessitates more energy imports from foreign countries subject to political instability and lax environmental standards. Enabled by the advanced technologies of modern oil rigging instruments, however, oil rigs can be operated with heightened environmental and worker safety right here in the U.S.

Domestic production would also drive down the cost of energy, to the advantage of families and businesses alike. A decrease in energy prices could spell a standard-of-living increase for energy-consuming taxpayers, while increased commercial activity could rake in a surge in tax revenue for local governments.

But in order for South Carolina to unleash the potential gains to be seen from Explore Offshore, it’s imperative that the middle- and southern-Atlantic must be made available. Proposed developments to the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program announced by Zinke would bring into fruition the objectives championed by Explore Offshore.

The Palmetto Promise Institute stands by Zinke and members of Congress in advocating for more prosperity for South Carolinians.