Columbia City Council voted Tuesday night to oppose offshore oil and gas development, a proposal already denounced by more than a dozen local governments in South Carolina.
Tuesday's vote in the state's capital city was the first by an inland municipality in South Carolina against offshore energy exploration and drilling, environmentalists said.
Columbia's stance follows a push by conservation groups that for months have been rallying support against federal plans to allow drilling and exploration off the Carolina coast. Charleston, Hilton Head Island, Georgetown and Beaufort are among the coastal cities in South Carolina to take similar positions.
Offshore oil and gas exploration is advanced by supporters as a way to help the nation become energy independent, while creating jobs.
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But drilling opponents say the search for oil and gas, which involves the use of seismic air guns in the ocean, could maim or kill dolphins and other marine life. If oil is found, drilling could lead to spills that could foul the state's tourism dependent beaches -- which are cornerstones of the economy, critics say.
Columbia's unanimous vote was taken with little discussion. Several offshore drilling opponents urged the council to adopt a resolution against offshore exploration and development.
Alan Hancock, a representative of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, said after the meeting that Columbia's stance shows that offshore drilling is of statewide concern. Columbia is a more-than-two-hour drive from most South Carolina beaches.
"I don't think it's surprising" that Columbia voted against drilling, Hancock said. "Once you dig into this, and understand that it is not going to decrease gas prices and jobs will be minimal, it's not worth risking tens of thousands of (existing) tourism jobs and the billions of dollars that tourism now brings to our state."
Columbia's vote occurred the same night that Charleston County Council took the same position and a day after the town of McClellanville voted against drilling, according to the national environmental group Oceana. The group's Samantha Siegel said Columbia's stance is important to show policy makers at the State House -- located just a few blocks away from City Hall -- that offshore drilling is a concern.
The votes by local governments are in sharp contrast to the positions of many state leaders in favor of offshore exploration and drilling.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., are among those who support the search for oil and natural gas off the coast. Boosters say the state needs the jobs. They also say the risk of spills is not significant.
The federal government has opened the possibility of drilling off the coast for the first time in decades. Early this year, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management included an area off the Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia that could be leased for drilling between 2017 and 2022. The plan is not final.
If testing locates natural gas or oil, energy companies could bid on leases to drill off the coast. That could bring millions of dollars in revenue from oil and gas leases for South Carolina, Duncan has said.
Support among state and congressional leaders took a hit last week, when U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) switched positions and came out against offshore drilling. But boosters scored a victory at about the same time, when the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control approved the first permit to explore for oil and gas of the state's coast.
DHEC last Friday certified a permit sought by Spectrum GEO to conduct seismic testing for oil and natural gas off the Carolinas coast, although the Atlantic Coast drilling issue is far from resolved.