051117 Offshore oil: Goldfinch proposes advisory referendum on drilling
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Offshore oil: Goldfinch proposes advisory referendum on drilling

By Nikki Best
Coastal Observer

State Sen. Stephen Goldfinch this week sponsored a bill to hold an advisory referendum on offshore oil and gas drilling. It came four days before the legislature was due to adjourn and was referred to committee.

“I don’t see any harm in letting the people of South Carolina tell us what they think about offshore drilling,” Goldfinch said.

The advisory referendum is intended to solicit feedback from the people and Goldfinch says it is the best way to get Gov. McMaster and other gubernatorial candidates to discuss the issue.

“Our congressional delegation is trying to figure out if we’re going to fight that or if we’re going to let that happen and so I think the next person that needs to be governor needs to tell us what they think about it,” Goldfinch said. “I can tell you the next governor is not going to be a Democrat so it may as well be a conversation among Republicans.”

U.S. Reps. Mark Sanford and Tom Rice reported opposition of offshore drilling in April. “In my view, it makes little sense to even conduct tests when the states and regions affected will have no say in the process of determining – especially when factoring potential impacts on the environment, tourism, along with other risks inherent in the process,” Sanford said in a press release.

All the current mayors of South Carolina’s coastal cities and towns have officially voiced opinions opposing offshore drilling. Last week, the mayors of Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Georgetown attended a press conference organized by Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic (SODA) to reiterate their united stance and fear of destruction caused by offshore drilling.

“We have all these hurricanes that are getting worse, rising sea levels and you want to toss in there a bunch of sludge? It’s not something that will affect one segment of our local economy it will effect it across the board,” Mayor Jack Scoville said prior to the conference.

Goldfinch said he is for drilling if it makes sense. Drilling starts to make sense for him 50 miles off the coast and if it sends billions of dollars into the state’s economy.

“Drilling makes sense to me if the state has revenue sharing and profit sharing, which is a traditional model. We need money for roads and bridges, and especially education right now,” he said. “It makes sense to me if it doesn’t threaten our tourist economy, and I know to a lot of people that’s a big if. But most of those people quite frankly don’t want drilling, no matter what.”

For state Rep. Lee Hewitt, drilling does not make sense. He opposes it from a personal, business and political standpoint. He also believes that his constituents in Mount Pleasant, Awendaw, McClellanville and Pawleys Island have already told him what they think about offshore drilling. “I understand [Goldfinch] is in favor of it, and he and I can agree to disagree on that. The district to me has shown that it is opposed to it,” he said.

SODA opposes seismic testing and drilling, and continues to leverage support for its cause. Jim Watkins, who chairs the group, thinks there’s better use for the space on the ballot than asking what SODA’s research already shows.

“My well-founded hunch is a referendum would probably show what all of our research shows, that the vast majority of South Carolinians, whether they live on the coast or inland, don’t like the idea of offshore testing and drilling,” he said. “It seems like a big waste of everybody’s time.”

The bill would charge the state Election Commission with placing the referendum on the 2018 primary election ballot. The single question reads:

“Do you favor the development of an offshore oil and natural gas industry if conducted in a manner that uses the highest standards of safety and most advanced available technology to vigilantly protect South Carolina’s precious natural resources, vital tourism industry, and unique quality of life while advancing economic growth through the creation of energy industry jobs and the use of increased revenue to the State resulting in a tangible benefit to the taxpayers?”

The legislative session closes today. The bill was referred to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. The question will appear on the ballot if the governor approves it.

Also this week, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it is moving forward with the review of six permit applications to conduct seismic tests for oil and gas off the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf.

“Allowing this scientific pursuit enables us to safely identify and evaluate resources,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said.

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