Liz’s Experience in Biloxi, Mississippi (originally posted on Southern Energy Network’s blog)
On the afternoon of August 4, I joined my fellow Mississippi coast residents in the regional solidarity action, “Hands Across the Sand.” Organized by 12 Miles South, the event brought people together to demonstrate opposition to the potential leasing of Gulf waters surrounding the Gulf Islands National Seashore to oil and natural gas exploration and drilling.
It was amazing to me to see so many people willing to stand up for a clean energy future for Mississippi. Not only were Mississippi coastal residents standing up for a healthy gulf, but students from throughout the Southeast, who participated in the April 20th Oil Spill Black Out day of action by preparing “ I Stand with the Gulf” banners, were also there in spirit.
The event made me reflect back on the importance of this issue and I realized that it was more than my belief in a clean, just, renewable energy future that fueled my desire to be more involved. I grew up on these waters. The gulf coast and its natural beauties have woven themselves into the fabric of my life. I rarely have a childhood moment that does not include the islands and beaches. It pains me to think that our state wants to take one of its greatest natural assets and beauties, and subject it to the destructive practices of oil and natural gas drilling. This is not a decision that we can press the reset button on.
Our fight for a clean gulf continued last Wednesday, as we traveled to Jackson, MS for a series of public hearings with the Mississippi Development Authority (permit approving agency). Read about our experience here.
Chris’ Experience in Charleston, South Carolina
I was fortunate enough to organize the local event for the Charleston, South Carolina area at one of the best beaches in the Southeast—Folly Beach. The event kicked off with brief speeches about the impacts of offshore drilling by Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin, Hamilton Davis of Coastal Conservation League, and me. Each of us highlighted the risks associated with offshore drilling, the risky nature of the oil and gas exploration process, the threat to South Carolina’s tourism industry posed by offshore operations, and the state’s immense potential for clean renewable energy production. At 12:00 pm, 60 participants joined hands along the beach, forming a physical and symbolic line in the sand: our way of communicating that we want to protect the beach from the impacts of offshore drilling.
Of particular concern for South Carolinians, as well as other coastal communities in the Southeast, is that offshore drilling is threat to the robust coastal tourism economy. The Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina estimates that South Carolina coastal tourism supports 81,000 jobs and generates about $3.5 billion dollars annually. On the other hand, recent reports released by advocates for offshore drilling suggest only a fraction of those jobs would be supported by offshore drilling in state waters. When we know that drilling and tourism can be at odds with each other, why risk one of our state’s most critical bread-and-butter industries for the limited economic development offered by a dirty, polluting business?
Furthermore, we South Carolinians are proud of our coastal ecology and seafood. Unfortunately, these treasures suffer perhaps the greatest toll from offshore oil and gas operations. The impacts of offshore oil and gas operations start with the exploration process itself. Exploration is carried out using airgun technology, which is highly disorienting and injurious for marine creatures such as dolphins, sea turtles, and whales, and can cause declines in fishery populations. In fact, the 2010 Gulf oil spill, which decimated the marine food chain, was the result of merely drilling an exploration well. Some shrimpers and oystermen in the Gulf report that their harvests are down by 75 percent since the 2010 spill. Is this what we want for our coasts along the Atlantic?
On the other hand, there are immense opportunities for clean energy production that could bring great economic development and yet do not threaten our coastal economies. Hamilton Davis with the Coastal Conservation League pointed out that South Carolina has the second largest offshore wind energy resource on the eastern seaboard, is ranked tenth for solar energy potential in the nation, and has substantial biomass resources at its fingertips. Additionally, there are significant opportunities to reduce energy demand and improve the current ranking of 46th least energy efficient state in the country. Increasing the amount of both renewable energy and energy efficiency deployment can help to offset the billions of dollars that leave the state annually for fossil fuel purchases. “Broader policy support for energy efficiency and renewable energy will lead to a more prosperous and cleaner energy future for South Carolina,” said Davis.
Although the Gulf coast and Atlantic coast Hands Across the Sand events were separated by hundreds of miles, both gatherings (and many more around the world) drew people motivated by one simple premise: saying “no” to offshore drilling and “yes” to clean energy makes sense for our coastal treasures, our economies and our way of life.