Coasts

Offshore Drilling

The Brown Pelican, a South Carolina icon, is one of many coastal birds whose populations could be jeopardized by an oil spill off our coast. Photo: Susan Dimock

Just after the New Year, the President announced that he would open the South Carolina coast, and in fact 90 percent of our nation's coastal waters, to oil drilling.  At the same time, the administration is rolling back safety regulations designed to prevent oil spills.  This is an issue of great urgency for anyone who cares about our state's coastal birds.

On the East Coast alone, the expansion of oil drilling is opposed by hundreds of local businesses, state and local officials, and governors, including South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster.  That's because offshore drilling poses significant threats both to birds and to coastal tourism.

Threats to Birds

Remember the big Gulf-of-Mexico oil spill in 2010?  In the acute phase of that spill, about one million birds died.  And the story didn't end there.  Studies show ongoing problems with the livers and lungs of Gulf birds; high rates of mutation among the offspring of oiled birds; and birds malnourished from cleanup efforts and dioriented by chemicals in the oil, which is still washing up seven years later.  

Birds are so tricky to study, and the scale of the damage there was so vast, that it’s not possible to make clear predictions about the future of Gulf birds.  We do know that Gulf dolphins aren’t expected to recover from the spill for about forty years.

Threats to Tourism

The oil industry offers rosy projections for drilling off the South Carolina coast.  Annual investment will supposedly rise to $2.7 billion over 20 years, with annual income rising to about $1 billion.  Note, though, that this is just while the oil lasts:  about a decade according to the same industry study.

But those amounts are peanuts compared to our current coastal tourism revenues of $9 billion per year.  And oil doesn’t mix with tourism.  A study of counties along the Gulf of Mexico found that the presence of ugly oil infrastructure cuts per-capita tourism dollars in half.  

Adding insult to injury, in the two years after the Gulf spill, more than $6 billion was paid for damages to tourism-related businesses.  Ecological damage was valued at $17.2 billion. 

Thank Our Leaders!

Fortunately, South Carolina has many public officials who oppose offshore drilling.   They include Governor Henry McMaster, U.S. Representatives Mark Sanford, James Clyburn, and Tom Rice, and dozens of city and county officials. 

Please take a moment to send your thanks to the Governor, as well as your U.S. Representative if you live in Sanford, Clyburn, or Rice’s district.

Staff contact:  Nolan Schillerstrom, nschillerstrom@audubon.org