Following President Donald Trump's April executive order encouraging offshore oil and natural gas exploration, Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) introduced legislation to suspend East Coast offshore drilling for a decade.
Navy Rear Adm. William Schachte Jr. (Ret.), the volunteer chairman of South Carolina Vets4Energy, is critical of Sanford's move.
"Blanket opposition to safe seismic testing and energy development is an out-of-date mentality that, quite honestly, jeopardizes America’s future," Schachte told Palmetto Business Daily. “Going beyond opposing drilling to try to stop safe seismic testing cuts us off from even knowing how many energy resources lie off our shores."
Sanford did not respond to requests to comment for this story, but in a statement released following the introduction of his bill, he said his proposed moratorium has bipartisan support.
"It has been supported in the past by Republican and Democratic presidents, in part because of their recognition that even if significant reserves were found in the Atlantic, it would represent but four months of oil supply to our country," Sanford said.
Trump's executive order, however, said it "shall be the policy of the United States" to encourage energy production, "including on the Outer Continental Shelf" in order to "maintain the Nation's position as a global energy leader and foster energy security and resilience for the benefit of the American people, while ensuring that any such activity is safe and environmentally responsible."
The Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) lies off the shores of the mid-Atlantic states, stretching from Virginia to Georgia. Previous seismic testing showed the OCS could hold up to 4.7 billion barrels of oil and 37 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Some experts believe the reserves could be far greater.
"Right now, our estimates are based on 30-year-old surveys that were done with out-of-date technology. At the very least, we need to do these tests to find our energy potential," said Schachte, who argued that the United States will do this type of evaluation "better and safer than any other country."
Schachte also noted that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, an arm of the Interior Department, previously concluded “there has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from air guns used in geological and geophysical seismic activities adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities.”
The OCS falls under the complete control of the federal government, with states having little say over its management. Sanford said such decisions over offshore drilling should be left up to the states.
“States should never be but wards of the federal government," Sanford said. "In this case, people from up and down the Atlantic have said in unequivocal fashion that what happens next in their coastal communities should be driven by local decisions rather than mandates that come from Washington."
As Palmetto Business Daily previously reported, a March 2016 survey conducted by the Harris Poll for the American Petroleum Institute found that 67 percent of South Carolina voters support “offshore development of U.S. oil and natural gas resources.” Of voters surveyed, 92 percent said an increase in oil and natural gas production could lead to more jobs in the U.S., and 86 percent said the increased production could help lower energy costs.
Schachte added that such energy development is also an issue of national security.
"We are the world’s largest consumer of energy, and we owe it to ourselves to explore our energy options and then develop those resources safely and responsibly," Schachte said. “The alternative is continuing to rely too much on foreign regimes that don’t share American values. I’d much prefer that America control her own destiny.”
The Interior Department will evaluate applications from six companies seeking permits to conduct geological and geophysical activities in the Atlantic Ocean. In January, then-President Barack Obama's administration refused to approve the applications.