You wouldn't know it in coastal South Carolina, but some state lawmakers are still open to offshore oil exploration. That needs to change.
Testifying before an ad hoc House committee on offshore drilling this week, Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Murrells Inlet, argued for a statewide referendum to let voters decide whether offshore waters should be opened for exploration.
He said he doesn't believe seismic testing is harmful to marine life and, despite being "villainized" for his stance, believes "we need to know what we have" in terms of undersea oil and natural gas deposits.
Sen. Goldfinch's arguments were ably countered by Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and City Councilman Mike Seekings, Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin, Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling, Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, Georgetown County Councilman John Thomas and Georgetown City Councilman Al Joseph, who spoke before the committee.
Though in the minority, a few Upstate lawmakers still haven't been convinced that the risks of developing an offshore oil industry far outweigh the benefits - even if oil deposits were discovered.
It's particularly troubling that Reps. Mike Burns, R-Greenville, and Bill Chumley, R-Spartanburg, both members of the offshore drilling committee, are sponsoring legislation that would encourage the development of onshore infrastructure to support the oil industry.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, and nine other House members would do the opposite - block onshore infrastructure development.
Mayor Tecklenburg, formerly in the business of pumping oil and fuel onto ships, assured the committee, echoing Mayor Goodwin, that "if you build it, it will leak."
Even if there were a suitable site for developing onshore oil facilities, "we wouldn't want it," he said, adding that South Carolinians should be looking toward renewable energy.
Mr. Seekings, an attorney with a background in geology, questioned the need to go after unproven oil reserves now or in future and suggested if the federal government were to open offshore areas to exploration that "we fight it."
Indeed, the Trump administration is expected to recommend opening Atlantic offshore waters to exploration and drilling in its new five-year leasing proposal. Though it could be years before seismic testing and drilling begin, South Carolina lawmakers need to present a unified front opposing it.
No amount of offshore oil - not even overblown American Petroleum Institute projections that show South Carolina netting up to $15 billion over a decade - would be worth risking the state's environment and its thriving tourism industry. As it is, tourism in South Carolina has an annual economic impact exceeding $20 billion.
As for developing a coastal oil depot, Mayor Goodwin asked committee members, "What city, what beach, what town are you willing to destroy?"
And as repeatedly pointed out in questioning by committee member Rep. Russell Ott, D-Columbia, one cannot logically favor seismic testing but oppose oil extraction or onshore infrastructure development. In that light, it may be helpful to recall that it was essentially a "test well" that blew out in 2010, triggering the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
The hearing was the committee's last before the Legislature reconvenes next month. The panel should recommend deep-sixing any legislation that could lead to seismic testing, drilling or the development of onshore oil facilities.
The Legislature should be committed to keeping South Carolina's tourism economy and coastal resources healthy and intact.