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Environment: Opponents of offshore drilling organize

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Foes of oil and gas production off the coast of South Carolina are mobilizing to present their arguments against seismic testing and exploration to government officials this month.

Members of the Winyah Chapter of Sierra Club made plans to attend a meeting of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management next Wednesday in Mount Pleasant and to write the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to argue against approving seismic testing in the ocean.

A second group organized by Goffinet McLaren and Terry Munson met at the Waccamaw Library to represent Litchfield Beach and Pawleys Island in efforts to oppose oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic.

“I am personally sad to know leasing is being opened up off the Atlantic coast,” Peg Howell told the Sierra Club. She was the first woman to work on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico after getting a degree in petroleum engineering. She knows the hazards of offshore drilling and the need for the government to try and balance interests. Adhering to regulations gets challenging when workers are on a rig, she said.

Howell encouraged people concerned about offshore drilling in the Atlantic to challenge it in a scientific way. “Go at it with reasoned thought,” she said. “Our hope is that we will be able to present information to reduce the amount of acreage available for leasing by explaining to the BOEM the other things that are happening in that ocean.”

The first comment period is the most important, Howell said, because it’s about the environmental impact statement. Wednesday’s meeting in Mount Pleasant will be held at the Wyndham Garden Hotel from 3 to 7 p.m.

An area 50 miles off Manteo, N.C., holds the most promise for oil and gas production, Howell said. “North Carolina has great concern about their beach,” she said, “and this is one ocean.”

She said that there has been a considerable amount of misinformation that oil exploration and production will bring jobs.

“Exploration is done by the most expert people who drill gas wells,” she said. “At best we might see some boat captains haul crews to offshore rigs. The promise of jobs is not in this time period of 5 to 10 years. The money that comes from leasing goes to the U.S. Treasury, not the states. The same is true for the ongoing yearly rentals and royalty money, she said. There is no revenue sharing with states unless Congress changes the law.

“The time to speak up is now,” Howell said.

Bo Ives, president of the Sierra Club, said he is worried about the industrialization of the coast even without a spill. “It will change overnight the nature of our coast,” he said.

Rick Baumann, owner of Murrells Inlet Seafood, said the facts and the law are on the side of oil drilling opponents. “It’s a matter of getting unified and loud in the ears of people who can affect decisions.”

He said reports that seismic testing’s harm to animals are inconclusive are false. “We’ve got to try and stop seismic testing,” he said. “It’s forbidden on the West Coast. If you read the paragraphs, 100,000 whales and animals will die. A few months of political pressure forced them to say the damage was not significant.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is accepting public comment until March 30 at boemoceaninfo.com. DHEC had extended its comment period on seismic testing until March 21 at joynercm@dhec.sc.gov .

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