THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Offshore drilling: Rally takes on apathy along with industry
By Jason Lesley
Foes of oil and natural gas drilling off the coast of South Carolina say they love the beach.
Seeing tar balls and drilling debris wash up at Pawleys Island, Litchfield Beach, Garden City and Murrells Inlet would be a tragedy for the local economy and ecology, according to comments from those attending an event sponsored by Stop Oil Drilling in the Atlantic, known as SODA, at the Crooked Floor Tavern in Murrells Inlet Saturday.
Bruxanne Hein, chairman of the local Surfrider Foundation chapter, said people are starting to pay attention but she sees a lot of people who feel opposing drilling is futile. “We are trying to get people interested because it’s where they live,” Hein said. “It’s what interests people most: not being able to go to the beach if there’s an oil spill, not being able to surf or fish, and ruining our tourism industry. When you start talking about where it’s going to hit, they get a little more interested.”
The Surfrider Foundation joined with SODA to present live music and provide a casual environment to tell people about the potential harm from oil drilling. Margaret Sands, daughter of John and Geales Sands of Huntington Marsh, said her family has a house on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi. “I went to college in Louisiana,” she said, “and I know what we are in for. When you get to the beach here, you set up your chairs and put on sunscreen. When we get to the beach there, you grab a trash bag and pick up tar balls and trash. It’s not a pretty place to be.”
SODA organizer Peg Howell of North Litchfield said allowing oil drilling off the coast is a “forever decision.” Doing nothing will result in drilling, she said. “We will have drilling rigs off our coast, trucks with caissons and drill pipe traveling up and down Highway 17, companies like Haliburton building offices and stock yards and infrastructure that reminds us every day that we are in oil field territory. It’s a forever decision. It doesn’t just come and go. It stays here for generations to come. This is our legacy.”
Howell said the oil spilled when a pipe burst in Santa Barbara, Calif., on May 20 came from wells drilled 50 years ago. “California passed a moratorium on oil drilling in 1984,” she said. “They’ve stopped new drilling, but they can’t stop old production. If we start it here, it will be here when our children and grandchildren are trying to enjoy this place.”
Howell worked as a “Company Man” on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. SODA has attracted a woman who worked as a “Land Man” in Louisiana.
Mary Erickson was at SODA’s event Saturday. She bought and sold onshore and offshore oil leases, and her family continues to work in the oil industry in Louisiana. She knew that she wanted to live near Pawleys Island after she began visiting in the early 1980’s.
“My perspective is different,” she said, “because I’m very pro-oil and gas industry and proud of the contributions we’ve made. If you want your house cool and put gas in your car, you are a supporter of the oil and gas industry. I come from a place that believes in what we do. But for South Carolina, it makes no economical sense, no ecological sense and no business sense.”
Erickson said she approaches oil drilling in the Atlantic from an educational standpoint. “Anyone who spends any time whatsoever looking at the numbers for jobs and revenue sees them crumble,” she said. “I am perplexed as to why so many more members of our community are not being much more vocal. Realtors, tourism, business owners, I don’t understand why people aren’t more vocal about opposition.”
Jean Marie Neal and her husband, Greg Farmer, joined the SODA movement as soon as they moved here from Washington, D.C. They are living at Pawleys Plantation while building a house at North Litchfield. Neal was chief of staff for U.S. Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan of Nevada and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Farmer was secretary of commerce for the state of Florida under Gov. Lawton Chiles and undersecretary of commerce for President Clinton with expertise in travel and tourism.
“My family has vacationed in Litchfield and Pawleys Island since I was a little girl,” Neal said. She and her husband considered retiring in Beaufort, but the Litchfield beach won out, she said.
“I meet so many people who don’t want to get involved,” Neal said, “because they think it’s political. It’s bipartisan. People say that to get an ‘out’ so they don’t have to express an opinion. It’s inconceivable that the tourism center of South Carolina is not united in opposition.”
Neal said she was involved in environmental matters through the regulation of nuclear waste in both South Carolina and Nevada. “The first thing that happens is property values go down,” she said. “If you are not a tourist and say it won’t affect me, you need to think again.”