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Offshore drilling: Opponents undeterred by denial of appeal

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Offshore drilling foes will be taking their message to the public with petitions, posters, a concert and even an entry in the Pawleys Island July 4 parade.

Peg Howell, an organizer of the local group SODA — it stands for Stop Oil Drilling in the Atlantic — planned to tell people at a public meeting Wednesday at the Waccamaw Neck branch library that it’s time for urgency. “We need to get people to understand that doing nothing will result in offshore drilling,” she said. “People can no longer sit back and wait to take action. There are many ways for people to make sure their voices are heard.”

Howell said SODA is planning some “fun things” to grow its grass-roots effort beginning with a concert in conjunction with the Surfrider Foundation Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Crooked Floor Tavern in Murrells Inlet. Members are working on ideas for a float in the Pawleys Island parade.

“We will be launching more serious efforts,” Howell said, “getting signs and petitions into local businesses and having businesses declare their positions about where they stand relative to offshore drilling. It will be a much more focussed campaign on petitioning up and down the coastline.”

Alan Hancock of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina came from Columbia to attend to last night’s meeting and encouraged people to sign a petition for Gov. Nikki Haley. “I respectfully ask you to stand up for South Carolina’s coastal resources, heritage and quality of life and ask the Obama Administration to take South Carolina out of the five-year plan for drilling that the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has recently proposed,” it said in part.

SODA member Jim Watkins said the organization is made up of a cross-section of the community: “Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians and even a vegetarian or two,” he said. The group is attracting lifelong environmentalists concerned about sea life and others concerned about the economics of South Carolina’s $16.7 billion tourism industry. Watkins said SODA will encourage “respectful dialogue” about oil drilling and production.

The group has organized a citizens action network, SODA-CAN, to try and convince elected officials to reject drilling. Howell, wife of Georgetown County Council Member John Thomas, said she has been talking about the impact of infrastructure on the coastline. “I’ve talked to elected officials about where this will go,” she said. “One said it will go somewhere. They’re not going to tell you exactly.” Howell said drilling is unlikely to be offshore from federal lands starting with the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and going south. “That leaves the northern part of the South Carolina coast to be concerned about,” she said.

That north coast scenario has not dulled the enthusiasm from the south. People from Sullivans Island and Kiawah have adopted the local name and formed SODA-Lowcountry. “Pretty cool,” Howell said. She is hoping for an integrated and cooperative opposition along the entire coast.

Rita Langley and Alice Morrisey, both from Sullivan’s Island, attended last night’s meeting in Litchfield to gather ideas for the Lowcountry branch. Morrisey said she fears for the dolphins that swim off Sullivan’s Island during seismic testing. “A deaf dolphin is a dead dolphin,” she said.

A committee of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control voted last week to deny a review of the full board’s decision to grant the first permit for seismic testing without further public hearings. The S.C. Environmental Law Project has 30 days to appeal to the Administrative Law Court.

Howell said she has learned that every seismic testing permit requires DHEC action, and two more companies have submitted applications. She said a federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management spokesman said he doesn’t expect any seismic activity before fall.

SODA is planning an event in August featuring Dr. Pamela Martin of Coastal Carolina University, who has co-authored “Ending the Fossil Fuel Era.” Howell said the use of fossil fuels will come to an end because they are not renewable resources. “The addiction Americans have to fossil fuels needs to be addressed,” she said. “We need to shift and look for opportunities to make Georgetown County more green and develop jobs in solar and wind turbines. There is a great opportunity coming in those two industries. Georgetown County is perfectly positioned for that. We want to make the case for clean jobs. We are very committed to supporting and helping grow jobs.”

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