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Offshore drilling: Opponents await new proposal from feds

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean will reach a critical point in the next few weeks as the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is due to announce a decision on leases.

“We are hoping that South Carolina will be excluded,” said Peg Howell of North Litchfield, a founder of the group Stop Oil Drilling in the Atlantic.

The Obama administration is expected to develop a final offshore energy plan before the president leaves office that would allow oil and gas companies to lease drilling locations in the Atlantic Ocean from 2017 through 2022. A first draft of the plan suggested the sites be located at least 50 miles off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Legislation proposed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska would allow drilling within three miles of shore.

Howell said offshore drilling in neighboring states could be just as hazardous to the South Carolina coast. Lease areas for North Carolina are so near the state line that a spill could impact Little River and North Myrtle Beach. A spill from Georgia waters would pose an every larger threat to the state’s beaches.

Jean Marie Neal, a spokeswoman for the opponents, says opposition to offshore drilling is gaining momentum nationally after a rally at the U.S. Capitol. Howell, a former petroleum engineer who worked for Chevron, was invited to speak by the Sea Party Coalition, a bipartisan group of about 60 organizations against drilling in the Atlantic. In addition to the dangers of oil spills, Howell said the onshore industrialization that comes with offshore drilling will be “a blight on our communities and damage our already fragile infrastructure and environment.”

She said states have agreed to the oil leasing programs because of the promise of revenue sharing. “All the money will go into the federal treasury as of now,” she said.

The Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, made up of eight governors including South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, urged the Obama administration to support legislation that would expand revenue-sharing to all participating coastal states.

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