Paving Wetlands Is The Real Environmental Threat
May 3, 2017
By John Steinberger | Contributing Writer
President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order allowing the Interior Department to review the prospects of oil and natural gas leasing in Atlantic and Arctic ocean waters which are currently off-limits. The environmental lobby quickly sent out a message of fear and impending doom.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg held a press conference joined by his counterparts in Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms and Edisto Beach opposing offshore drilling. The mayors claim that oil and natural gas exploration would harm the tourism industry along the coast.
No energy company would invest in exploration without seismic mapping showing that sufficient reserves exist off of our coast to make it profitable. That testing has not yet been conducted. Many geologists believe that the South Carolina coast is more likely to have natural gas reserves than oil. Robotic devices have found deposits of methane crystals on our outer continental shelf (OCS). Any spill of natural gas would rapidly dissipate in the deep ocean waters and have no environmental impact.
If oil is discovered off of our coast in sufficient amounts to merit exploration, it would be unlikely to cause environmental damage. Environmentalists are quick to point to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which caused oil to wash ashore in Louisiana. There are significant differences between that rig and the rigs which may be located 50 or more miles off of our coastline. Deepwater Horizon was located at a depth of 5000 feet in the Gulf of Mexico. Rigs along South Carolina’s OCS would be at a depth of 600 feet, much easier to maintain. The South Carolina rigs would be located along the Gulf Stream, meaning that a spill would be swept out to sea. The shallow rigs are much easier to cap.
Even the disastrous oil spill in Louisiana had a short-term economic and environmental impact. The oil slicks were quickly metabolized by indigenous bacteria. Fishermen are once again harvesting the surrounding waters. Tourists are back to enjoying the clean beaches. Oil rigs actually serve as artificial reefs and attract fish and a wide variety of other marine life.
Commenting on President Trump’s executive order, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke remarked, “This order will cement our nation’s position as a global energy leader and foster energy security for the American people, without removing any of the stringent environmental safeguards that are currently in place.” Zinke said that Interior Dept. data indicates that an estimated 90 Billion barrels of oil and 327 Trillion cubic feet of natural gas are deposited in the off-limits coastal areas.
Research done by the Interstate Policy Alliance and Palmetto Policy Institute in 2014 projected that offshore drilling could create up to 45,000 jobs by 2035 and generate $1.1 Billion in annual lease and royalty revenue and $165 M in annual state and local tax revenue for South Carolina. The possibility also exists to set up a liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal at the Port of Charleston. Read the study here: http://www.offshoreopportunity.com/study/
What is being overlooked is the real environmental threat taking place all over West Ashley — paving the wetlands. Wetlands soil and vegetation act as sponges, absorbing rainwater and pollutants. When we remove the vegetation and pave or build structures on the wetlands soil, it results in more stormwater runoff carrying pollutants with it. Maurice Washington was the only mayoral candidate in 2015 to sound the alarm about developing the wetlands. The Coastal Conservation League has been silent about this environmental damage.
Like almost everyone, I love our beaches and eating local seafood. Exploring for oil and natural gas off of our coastline poses a minimal environmental risk. Developing our wetlands poses a real threat to our environment, and the increased flooding in West Ashley has resulted in property damage to thousands of property owners. To those who say a rising sea level is causing the flooding — nice try. Sea level has been rising an average of about 3 millimeters per year for the last century. Smart people wouldn’t be spending big money for beach houses if they were worried about the sea level rising.
John Steinberger is the editor-in-chief of LowcountrySource.com. To contact him, email John@LowcountrySource.com.