If you have been paying attention, you know that something monstrous may soon come to the South Carolina coast. I speak in relative terms, of course. To a child, seven to 10 years is an eternity. To a college student, it is "long term." To one who has reached my mellow age, it is just another page in the book.
Whatever your age, if you are a resident of the Lowcountry, the prospect of the oil industry staking its claim on South Carolina's coastal shelf, building massive refineries and terminals on our shores, threatening our beaches, our tourism, our wildlife, our seafood is a threat that must be faced now.
Now means today and the place to face it is in Columbia and Washington. There are forces in both cities that seek to lift the moratorium on exploration and drilling for oil on the continental shelf. Decisions are being made very quickly and very quietly. How quietly? Ask yourself: When was the last time you heard anyone discussing this monumental disposition of our natural resources and our way of life? At least the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge has been in the news for the last few years. The people of Alaska — and the American public — have had the information to debate the issue and put it on the national agenda.
But what about the South Atlantic Continental Shelf? For years, the oil and gas industry has been investing and speculating on the coast from Maryland to Florida. They have been planting seeds and spending money in state capitals and in Washington. Now they may be on the verge of reaping their harvest.
In Washington, the House has passed one bill that would allow coastal states to opt out of the federal ban on coastal exploration and drilling and another bill that would relax environmental standards on the petrochemical industry and give the president power to unilaterally designate federal land for the building of new oil refineries. The Francis Marion National Forest looks like exactly what the writers of that legislation had in mind.
In Columbia, two Upstate Republicans have introduced bills that would allow South Carolina to waive the federal moratorium on oil and gas exploration and would explore the building of a petroleum refinery on the coast.
Supporting these efforts have been two coastal congressmen, Henry Brown, of the first district, and Joe Wilson, of the second district.
If you are surprised to learn that the oil and gas industry may be coming here, it is not because you have been napping. No one should be surprised that Henry Brown and Joe Wilson have kept a low profile on this issue. Neither of them has been seen talking to local Chambers of Commerce or Rotary luncheons about their plans to open the coast to oil drilling.
But why have the local media failed to report this story, which has been percolating through Washington and Columbia for a year now? Local television stations have had the story for many weeks, but only last week got around to mentioning it on air. We all know that local television news is really good for little more than chasing fire trucks, but why were the Post and Courier and The State newspaper in Columbia sitting on their hands on this story? With their large staffs, they had the resources to break this story, but made the conscious decisionnot to.
At this writing, The State still has not touched the story. The P&C treated the topic with a Frank Wooten column back in October 2005, then with a front-page news story two weeks ago, followed by another Wooten column last Sunday. Is it paranoid to think that these media corporations are in league with other large corporate interests in trying to slide this legislation through before anyone notices? For the Post and Courier, this failure to pursue the story — let alone to come out editorially against offshore drilling — is particularly reprehensible, since the P&C prides itself on environmental stewardship.
In Pages of History, the P&C's self-published history of its first 200 years, author Charles R. Rowe writes, "The Post and Courier has given substantial coverage to environmental issues through ... special projects showing the threat to natural areas and natural resources." The narrative went on to describe how the paper campaigned successfully, in 1997, to stop a sand diversion project that would have threatened the pelican rookery on Bird Key. Somehow the newspaper missed the story of oil wells and refineries coming to the coast of South Carolina.
Now the story is out in the open and sources tell me that Henry Brown is taking a beating on the subject from constituents calling and writing in. Keep up the good work. And on Election Day, don't forget who tried to sell our coast to the oil industry.