Debunking offshore drilling in South Carolina

November 4, 2015

By Terry Munson


The second worst thing that could happen to Georgetown County on the energy front is to have no oil/natural gas jobs materialize. The very worst thing that could happen is that the American Petroleum Institute’s projections are proven true and all 35, 569 jobs turn out to be real. Sound contradictory? It’s not. Except for the chronically under-funded Georgetown, no community in South Carolina wants oil infrastructure in their back yard. Thus, if there are jobs, they will be in what local lobbyist Bill Crowther sees as the promised land. His eyes twinkle as he conjures up a vision of our quaint little town as the reincarnation of Port Fourchon, LA, a habitual under performer when it comes to municipal beauty contests.

If 10,000 new workers (new because we have only 2,000 unemployed people at present) bring with them or sire two children each, that will triple the size of our ten-thousand student school system. At $11,198 per student, that will raise school taxes by $224 million annually. A few short years ago our county had a tumultuous referendum to add one cent to our sales tax to pay for road maintenance. The $224 million in new school taxes, divided by the 40,000 households in the county, comes to $5,600 each – an unbearable burden.

Objectively viewed, this $224 million is for the benefit of the oil company that wins the drilling lease; it is in not an extreme position to suggest they should pay it. But they won’t, so our leaders are positioning the county to add $224 million to the bottom line of the oil company by extracting it, ever so gently, from the pockets of county residents. This sounds like such a bad joke that it is inconceivable that it could actually occur. If Nikki Haley and Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham were not receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from oil lobbyists, I would be forced to agree.

More bad news for oil on the economic front. Two highly qualified colleagues and I recently completed a study that shows that over the next twenty years (a period selected by oil analysts) tourism will bring $533.5 billion dollars to South Carolina while oil contributes $19.4 billion in economic growth. A rule we never broke in the course of our analysis was to give oil all the breaks they claimed, even when some seemed highly dubious. For example, the oil advocates claim billions in something called “revenue sharing,” a wished-for splitting of the federal government’s leasing revenue. That may or may not be a good idea, but the point is it doesn’t exist and President Obama has said it will not happen. Still, we allowed their claim.

As compelling as these economic arguments sound, thy are almost beside the point. Currently, the US Energy Information Administration data shows that the country has an 87 year supply of natural gas. Having made great progress in petroleum, the American Petroleum Institute (a lobbying organization), says we will be independent in oil by 2020. Obviously the industry agrees. It is using its staff of 625 lobbyists to twist Congressional arms (and necks if necessary) to convince that august body to reverse the 40-year ban on shipping crude oil overseas. If that happens, then it is possible, or even likely, that no oil will enter Georgetown’s miniscule port and no onshore jobs will appear.

Nor is the environment irrelevant. Louisiana judges found that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill resulted from human error, criminal negligence, and ignoring of safety regulations in pursuit of profits. While parroting the word “safety” in their presentations, the pro-drilling faction has spent no time explaining how those human failings can be prevented from lubricating Grand Strand, Charleston, and Beaufort County beaches.

All of the original rationale for drilling proved fictitious. All of the newly minted reasons have a half life of milliseconds. No plot to destroy Georgetown, its economic interests, or its way of life holds as much promise as drilling offshore. Nonetheless, the drill-baby-drillers will succeed unless the people who are being scammed rise up and begin looking into how they are being used and abused.


Terry Munson lives in Pawleys Island, SC