As a citizen of Pickens County and on behalf of the South Carolina Native Plant Society, I am writing in response to the letter Pickens County House Representative David Hiott wrote to the EPA in support for off shore seismic testing and drilling for oil. Representative Hiott’s letter projects jobs and revenue while ignoring scientific studies and the sentiment of Coastal communities. Allowing drilling would be a high-risk gamble for South Carolina and a gift to the fossil fuel industry at the expense of our coastal communities and will bring radical change to our entire state. In a time when America and the world is running toward clean energy and clean energy jobs, this decision to embrace such a radical move takes us in the opposite direction.
Representative Hiott’s position and letter run counter to the positions of Governor Henry McMaster, 125 Coastal municipalities, 1200 elected officials, 41,000 businesses, and 500,000 fishing families. The decision and judgement place a target on our coast that is just not worth the risk. Estimating 2.7 billion revenues over two decades sounds great until you consider losing 20 billion a year in tourism. Alvin Taylor, director of SCDNR says, “South Carolina’s natural resources are our most valuable economic asset”. With all due respect to Representative Hiott, it is nature-based tourism that fuels our economy, not oil.
It is time everyone knows the impacts and understands one inevitable fact; that it is not a matter of if a spill or leaks will occur, but when and to what degree the spills, dredging, pipes, and tankers soil forever the sands and estuaries and livelihoods that have defined our coast and our history. Let’s be very clear, it will not be pretty, and it will not be clean.
South Carolina Senator Tom Davis a Republican from Beaufort, recently testified before the US House Committee on Natural Resources. He laid out sound rational, science-based facts on why this is a bad idea. Senator Davis sites that even the best and most optimistic oil and gas scenario would generate less than 1 percent of the economic impact that tourism generates for all of South Carolina. According to the Department of Interior, if we harvested the total amount of energy resources it would only keep the US in oil for 61 days. And the profits would go will go to big oil while South Carolinians and our natural resources assume all the risks.
Why not just test to see what’s out there? We already know what is out there, it was tested 38 years ago with basically the same technology. Seismic Testing involves firing loud sonic guns every 16 seconds to obtain estimates of oil deposits for months. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms that the sound can be detected as far as 1,800 miles. NOAA projects impacts on mammals will be catastrophic, if not fatal. 13.6 million sea animals will experience altered behavioral patterns and It’s estimated that fishing harvests will be reduced by an average 50 percent. The real kick in the gut is the data from the tests are property of the private companies doing the testing and local decision makers and public get no access. We are left to take their word for it. Is this sound judgment to trust our future to the oil industry?
Everyone remembers the BP Deepwater Horizon rig fire and spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill that lasted three months with 184 million barrels spilled, 26,000 jobs lost immediately and greatly injured a 4.5 billion fishing industry harmed.
In South Carolina, we stand in the cross roads of time when we as a people must decide who we are and what we are for. Our coast and our coastal neighbors need our support in speaking out on poor decisions based upon maybes. This is not a low country issue, it’s a who we are issue. It’s about our values, future generations and common sense. As Senator Davis says ‘oil and water’ do not mix, you cannot have both. Once the genie is out of the bottle, you cannot put it back.
In conclusion, I have known Representative Hiott for many years and have the utmost respect and appreciation for his honorable service to our great state and Pickens County. I have witnessed him stand to protect natural resources on many occasions. I sincerely hope that history, facts, and consequences can bring about a change in thinking.
Sincerely Rick Huffman,
Founder, SC Native Plant Society