By Gregg Bragg, Senior Staff Writer for Island Connection
The Sea Islands Action Network invited Peg Howell to speak to Lowcountry residents about offshore drilling at Seabrook’s Lake House on Jan. 30. Howell is a former oil industry insider, and the first woman to garner the title “company man,” [e.g. person in charge of a drilling platform]. She is uniquely qualified to describe the threat of oil exploration to coastal communities. This insider-turned-conservationist founded Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic. SODA is a volunteer, non-partisan, grassroots group born of a desire to protect and preserve the health and beauty of the Atlantic coast. The group’s mission is to
prevent offshore seismic blasting and drilling for oil and gas. Howell didn’t mince words in debunking arguments which favor risking coastal property values in exchange for corporate profits. Regarding the 35,000 jobs pitched as a benefit by the oil industry, Howell said, “gas station attendants are included in that figure [e.g. they’re already working in SC]. These [new] jobs don’t go to local residents.
The jobs go to those already working with the company. We called ourselves ‘oil field trash,’ and we went wherever the hot spots were. They may hire a few local boat captains who know the waters, and a few more minimum wage people
to work in warehouses full of chemicals, but that’s it. There’s no money in it for those bearing the risk.” The revenue bonanza for SC posited by proponents of drilling along the SC coast like Jeff Duncan (R-SC-3/ Greenville/Upstate), is also a myth, claimed Howell. “The president has already said there will be no ‘revenue sharing’ from the feds to Atlantic states. And the states that do benefit from “revenue sharing” receive a pittance compared to the risk they are taking.”
Louisiana, for example, receives the lion’s share of about $6.5 million/year in oil revenue. The combined revenue garnered by the oil producing states of Alabama, Alaska, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas sums to just over $11 million/year. Projections provided by Munson, McLaren, and Stickler show SC deriving 3 times that total from travel and tourism alone.
This versus energy company profits consistently counted in billions. Trump was simply teeing up negotiations when he said “no revenue sharing” another of Howell’s clarifications; the best possible site for Atlantic exploration is the Manteo project [near Hatteras] off the coast of NC, 207 miles from SC. The limit on claims to profits is 200 miles, and the same is true for claims to damages, which can easily spread to Myrtle Beach. “The $100/barrel price of oil in 2013 [currently hovering around $50] seemed like a good reason to expand oil exploration. So let’s imagine the current proposal has gone into effect and take a look back at the last 20 years in light of Trump’s reversal of safeguards put in place after the Deepwater Horizon disaster,” said Howell. She slowly paged through a series of slides depicting a dystopian, if hypothetical future. 350 leases were sold and 650 wells were sunk mostly in deep water, (which increases the risk level). The centrally located Port of Charleston has been transformed into the East Coast’s primary storage and transfer point, and SC is now a latticework of pipelines. Four years into production there is a catastrophic blowout that closes beaches until investigators find a cause/solution. Hurricane ‘Hades’ then ravages the Port of Charleston and it takes years to resume “normal” operations, while the pungent scent of raw oil remains. A series of untraceable, still under investigation leaks closes fishing for five years, and throughout SC, 144 separate pipeline leaks have contaminated everything around them. The punch line: the picture she painted isn’t hypothetical. “All these things have actually happened [in the gulf of Mexico] in the last decade,” said Howell to a room of faces turned ashen. The kicker: “Once they start drilling, there’s no way to stop them, even if they sell their rights to another company,” she added. Howell then directed her comments to the “necessity” of opening new frontiers to oil exploration. Crude oil production in the United States has increased by more than 90% since 2008, while natural gas production has increased by 50% since 2005. Proven onshore reserves show a 100-year supply, and yield a trend line which angles up through 2040 before leveling off. The U.S. currently bests Russia in the production of natural gas, beats Saudi Arabia in the production of oil, and already puts the U.S. on pace to lead in the export of both commodities by 2025. “We don’t need to open up any ‘new frontiers,’” scoffed Howell, who concluded her presentation with a call for direct action. Concerned residents can register their thoughts by visiting the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) page Regulations.gov/ document?D=BOEM-2017-0074-0001, until the March 8 deadline. Professional sounding arguments carry more weight with BOEM representatives. Howell offered the following talking points:
1. The burden of environmental risk is borne primarily by the marine and coastal areas adjacent to and within which oil gas activities occur.
2. Environmental risks could result in a direct impact on human health (e.g. “Cancer Alley” as it’s called in Louisiana and Texas) or economic stability.
3. The impact to human health will include degradation of air and water quality, and contamination of the food supply.
4. The U.S. doesn’t need it.
5. The proposal is high risk/no reward.
You can contact state legislators by visiting SCStatehouse.gov/index.php. “I’m not diplomatic anymore,” says the Pawley’s Island resident. “I’m retired and now I have a legacy I want to defend for my children, and for my grandchildren,” concluded Howell.
For more information on drilling and seismic testing in your community, visit Facebook.com/ StopOffshoreDrillingintheAtlantic/.