Skip to main content

Charleston Business

SC Officials Applaud Trump's Moratorium on Offshore Exploration, Drilling

Sep 09, 2020 10:30AM ● By David Dykes
By David Dykes

President Trump said he is expanding an offshore drilling moratorium to Florida’s Atlantic coast, Georgia and South Carolina, multiple media outlets reported, and the move drew swift praise from South Carolina officials.

Gov. Henry McMaster applauded the president’s decision to halt offshore drilling exploration.

"South Carolina is blessed with the most beautiful and pristine beaches, sea islands, and marshes in the nation," McMaster said. "Seismic testing and offshore drilling threatens their health and jeopardizes the future of our state’s $24 billion tourism industry. Today’s announcement is good news, but we must remain vigilant in the conservation and preservation of our coastline."

Added Attorney General Alan Wilson: "I want to thank the Trump administration for listening to our concerns and announcing this moratorium. We had sued the federal government to protect South Carolina’s coast from oil and gas exploration and drilling. This is a step in the right direction and we will remain vigilant in protecting South Carolina’s coast and economy."

As early as January of 2018, McMaster advocated against offshore drilling on behalf of the state in a letter and subsequent meeting with then-U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

The governor said he requested the meeting to seek an exemption from offshore drilling, citing the fact that the massive refineries and gas storage needed to sustain the operation were not compatible with South Carolina’s coastline and protected sea land.

Later that year, McMaster joined nine other East Coast governors in signing a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Secretary Zinke detailing their opposition to oil exploration off of the Atlantic Coast. The letter spelled out the governor’s concerns regarding the detrimental environmental and economic impacts drilling would have on the state.

In the 2019 state budget, the governor advocated for, and signed into law, a proviso prohibiting state or local government funds from being used to plan, permit, or license any offshore oil and gas related activities.

But in 2012, then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Third District Congressman Jeff Duncan all spoke out in support of legislation that would open the South Carolina coast to oil and gas drilling.

"By authorizing offshore leasing for oil and gas exploration, South Carolina will lead a long, overdue effort to open up American-owned energy reserves," Graham said at the time.

"Utilizing our abundant natural resources is a crucial step in ending our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and creating thousands of jobs right here in South Carolina," Duncan said then.

By 2013, Duncan, a Laurens Republican, had introduced the South Carolina Offshore Drilling Act, which he said would add the state to the nation's five-year plan for offshore exploration and production.

Duncan introduced the legislation as an amendment in the House Natural Resources Committee that passed the House, but was never taken up by the Senate.

Duncan said a 2009 study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute estimated there could be as much as 3.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas off the South Carolina coast.

A separate study calculated that oil and natural gas production could create over 7,500 new jobs in South Carolina, have a statewide economic impact of over $2.2 billion annually, and generate around $87.5 million in new state revenue, Duncan said.

"We can develop our resources safely and in a way that benefits the entire state," he said. "South Carolina has been very vocal on this issue, and we've let both Congress and the president know that we're not backing down."

Duncan said Haley and the governors of North Carolina and Virginia sent a letter to Interior Secretary-Designate Sally Jewell, encouraging her to abandon federal opposition to drilling off the Atlantic Coast.