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Environment: Oil drilling opponents win top conservation award

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Last year, they got a trophy in the Pawleys Island Fourth of July Parade. This year, organizers of a grassroots campaign against offshore oil drilling have been named Conservationist of the Year by the S.C. Wildlife Federation.

Members of SODA (Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic), will receive the award next month when the federation celebrates its 85th anniversary.

“SODA was on the front lines and became the most visible face of broad opposition to the oil and gas industry entering South Carolina. There was no task that SODA was not willing to handle and it was always handled professionally and with passion. It was an amazing illustration of what organic grassroots activism is all about, and for those who worked with SODA, it was inspiring,” said Ben Gregg, executive director of the Wildlife Federation.

In March, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that all states in the South Atlantic were being removed from consideration for offshore oil and gas development. That came one year after SODA held the first of countless meetings to rally support against drilling. They helped get resolutions against drilling from all the coastal towns and cities in the state.

“We had no idea of being inspiring,” said Peg Howell, a North Litchfield resident and leader of the group. “We were fighting like heck to stop this.”

SODA is being recognized for its role in reversing a bureaucratic decision in the face of daunting odds, Gregg said.

The award comes at a time when the group is working to get the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to deny permits that would allow seismic testing to determine the extent of oil and gas reserves.

SODA collected 300 petition cards in opposition to seismic testing that were included with 75,000 that were presented to the Department of the Interior last week.

“The need for action isn’t as urgent, the meetings don’t carry the same level of anxiety, but it’s good that we’re still plodding along,” Howell said. “We can’t stop.”

There are about 10 core leaders of SODA who continue to meet twice a month at the Waccamaw Library, but it counts about 1,300 people as members in chapters from Myrtle Beach to Charleston. “It’s more than just a few minority voices,” Howell said. “We are thrilled to be honored.”

And now the group is working on its float for this year’s Pawleys Island parade.

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