According to an article published today in the Post and Courier, natural gas and oil exploration off the coast of South Carolina is expected to get a go-ahead from a state committee later this week. A feasibility study committee set up by the state Legislature will recommend asking a federal agency to include South Carolina as one of the states in a five-year plan that would open up exploratory drilling off the coast.

The recommendation states that drilling should be approved if it would produce sufficient revenue for the state and mitigate potential harm to tourism and the environment. So, how much is that? How much are our beaches worth? Over 10 years ago (1998) coastal tourism in South Carolina had an economic impact that totaled $7.5 billion in expenditures and output, generated $1.54 billion in wages and earnings, and gave 250,000 people a regular paycheck. In the same year, visitors to the coast spent $6.5 billion in the state and paid $500 million in state and local taxes.

In the article, Sen. Paul Campbell Jr., R-Goose Creek, was quoted as saying: “The (federal) Minerals Management Service does a heck of a job monitoring offshore facilities.” Heck of a job. Where have we heard that before?

On the other hand, Hamilton Davis of the Coastal Conservation League said: “The whole discussion has been distorted, in my opinion. The emphasis on natural gas drilling has skirted the dangers of oil drilling, and the federal permit would allow both.”

Maybe the state should listen to the views of an expert, like Mitchell Colgan, who is chairman of the College of Charleston’s Geology and Environmental Geosciences Department and has worked for Shell Oil, the U.S. Geological Survey and on three oil reservoirs in Texas, New Mexico and Alaska. He stated in a recent interview:

“I really don’t think there’s any oil out there. … To be able to find oil and drill for offshore oil requires a great deal of money. For an oil reservoir to be economically viable requires there to be a fairly good-sized reservoir. From my reviews of the public record, there are no oil reservoirs of any consequence that would entice anybody to drill. … Even if one can identify a reservoir, and this oil is technically recoverable, it does not mean that it is economically recoverable.”

He went on to say:

“The political energy spent on this discussion [whether we should drill for oil off the coast of South Carolina] should be used examining the political and economic feasibility of offshore wind-energy generation, as well as other locally produced clean energy. What drove our interest in drilling off of our coast was $4 per gallon gasoline. We have just witnessed this great collapse in the price of oil. This downturn did not occur because there were new oil discoveries. We did not find more oil; the world is using less. That’s an important lesson for us. If we can take this time of cheaper energy to become more energy efficient, especially with regards to our automobiles, the need to drill for oil decreases markedly and we move toward greater energy independence.”