The Trump Administration has announced plans to review the Atlantic Ocean for oil and gas exploration. The Department of Interior just concluded an extensive review in March of 2016, and the Obama Administration announced that it was removing the Atlantic from its 2017-2022 offshore drilling plans. Then in January of 2017, the Administration denied all six active permit applications from companies seeking to perform seismic testing in the Atlantic. These were considerable victories for the thousands of citizens and businesses that vocally opposed offshore drilling and seismic testing off the coast of South Carolina and other Atlantic states.
However, the Trump Administration plans to reverse decisions.
The Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) holds an estimated 4.72 billion barrels of oil that was previously off limits under the federal offshore drilling moratorium. To put that into perspective, consider that the US consumes over 7.5 billion barrels of oil per year. Estimates suggest that South Carolina may only have enough oil and gas off its coast to meet current demand in the US for approximately 6 days.
The US Department of Energy has concluded this amount of oil would have an insignificant impact on gas prices at the pump and would have similarly insignificant impacts on the future cost of natural gas.
The SC Board of Economic Advisors has stated, “While offshore oil and gas activities have become much safer in recent years, spilled oil and coastal shorelines don’t mix. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ranks the South Atlantic as having the highest relative environmental sensitivity to spilled oil. Given the relatively low amount of potential resources off of our shores and the environmental sensitivity of our coastline, there does not seem to be much incentive for drilling off South Carolina at current prices.”
Seismic testing is a means to one end—offshore oil and gas development—and has been widely opposed by communities, businesses and local governments all along the East Coast. In June of 2016, fifty-five members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama requesting a halt to plans for seismic testing for oil and gas in the Atlantic, which included waters off the South Carolina coast. The Palmetto State’s Mark Sanford and Jim Clyburn were among the congressional signatories.
The Coastal Conservation League and our many members actively pressured the Obama Administration to take immediate steps to eliminate the imminent threat that seismic testing poses to marine mammals, fisheries, and other wildlife in the Atlantic.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is offshore drilling an appropriate economic development strategy for South Carolina?
No. Our state’s fisheries and ocean-based tourism and recreation support nearly 79,000 jobs and generate over $4.4 billion in GDP each year in South Carolina. Embracing offshore drilling would mean the industrialization of our state’s coastline with oil and gas infrastructure, which is in clear conflict with the existing economic and environmental advantages enjoyed by our coastal communities.
Can offshore drilling lower prices at the pump for consumers?
No. As noted by the Department of Energy under the Bush Administration, “Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices (from access to currently off-limit areas in the Atlantic, Pacific, and eastern Gulf regions) is expected to be insignificant.”
Will offshore drilling result in energy independence for the US?
No. Current estimates for reserves off the South Carolina coast equate to a 6-day supply of oil and gas at current US consumption rates. If all economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves were extracted for the entire east coast, you could only meet current oil demand for 132 days and current gas demand for 283 days.
Would seismic testing and exploration impact fish and wildlife?
Yes. The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) estimates that millions of sea creatures, including marine mammals and fish, will be impacted in various ways from seismic testing.
“After many years of working to rebuild Mid-Atlantic fisheries to sustainable levels, the potential negative impacts of G&G (seismic) activities on these rebuilt resources are extremely troubling. The general lack of information included in the PElS (Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement) relative to impacts of G&G activities on fish, marine mammals, and the surrounding ecosystem is of serious concern… The Council recognizes the importance of energy exploration to U.S. economic security, but the activities described in the Draft PElS have the potential to contravene the Council’s efforts to conserve and manage living marine resources and habitat.”
A group of 75 leading marine scientists and research institutions have published an open letter questioning the federal government’s conclusions on the level of impacts that seismic testing would have on the marine environment, stating in part that:
“Our expert assessment is that the (federal government’s) premise is not supported by the best available science. On the contrary, the magnitude of the proposed seismic activity is likely to have significant, long-lasting and widespread impacts on the reproduction and survival of fish and marine mammal populations in the region, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which only 500 remain.”