I have lived on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina since 1981. In the early 2000’s, I attended graduate school in Santa Barbara, California. When I walked the beach there, I was horrified by the sight of oil rigs in the distance and tar balls that stuck to my feet. I was grateful that no structures marred our view or tar contaminated our pristine beaches.
In May, 2015, an oil spill off Santa Barbara, CA coincided with a bill co-sponsored by South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, that would permit oil and gas drilling off mid-and South Atlantic coast states. The bill was incorporated into legislation by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and, though it was passed by the Senate Energy Committee, it died when that session of Congress ended.
However, the bill could be reintroduced in the current session of Congress. So the specter of a Santa Barbara-like disaster off our coast could become a reality.
Commenting on his bill, Senator Scott said, “South Carolina’s pristine coastline is a world class tourist destination and will always be a cornerstone of our state’s economy,” and that he “worked to ensure this legislation protects our tourism industry while opening the door to new economic opportunities.” Scott asserted that “safe and responsible energy production off the Atlantic coast has the ability to grow our economy, create thousands of good paying jobs and continue to strengthen our nation’s energy future.”
Contrary to Senator Scott’s predictions, the Charleston Post and Courier reported this month that tourists spent more than $20 billion in 2015 in South Carolina.
In 2014, tourism supported one of every 10 jobs in South Carolina, and generated over $1 billion in tax revenues for state and local governments. Tourism revenue has increased every year for almost three decades.
American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas lobbying group, estimates that the 20-year economic impact of drilling offshore of South Carolina would be $2.7 billion. That would mean that oil and gas would generate less than one percent of the economic impact than tourism has on South Carolina’s economy.
Given that a relatively small Santa Barbara oil spill closed beaches for weeks, including Memorial Day weekend, a major oil spill could put our tourism industry out of business for years.
History—including Santa Barbara’s spill—reminds us that there is no “safe and responsible energy production” with oil drilling. Given that “South Carolina’s pristine coastline is a world class tourist destination and …a cornerstone of our state’s economy,” why should Senator Scott risk economic disaster and jobs lost in the (inevitable) event of an oil spill? Once paradise is lost, it cannot be regained.
Alice Timmons Morrisey