By Paul Gable
Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was in Myrtle Beach earlier this week to push an initiative for oil and gas drilling off the coast of South Carolina.
Gingrich spoke at a forum of oil and gas industry representatives who want Congress to allow exploratory drilling and development of possible offshore oil and gas resources.
One of the issues at the forefront of talks about oil and gas drilling off the U.S. coast is the number of high paying jobs such economic activity will bring to the area.
If those types of jobs would become available, it would certainly help the Horry County area which consistently ranks dead last in average worker income among the 335 largest counties in the nation.
The irony here is that wage levels in Horry County have been consistently depressed because of the tourism industry. It’s just over 50 years ago that Horry County business leaders met with then Sen. Strom Thurmond to stop plans for extending I-20 to the coast. They worried an interstate would bring industrial development that would rob them of low wage workers in the hotels, restaurants and tobacco fields in the county.
Now the oil and gas industry is making its pitch to have the area push Congress for the right to explore offshore resources. It’s hard to see area leaders embracing this idea when low paying jobs remain clearly in their focus.
Gingrich also held a short meeting with several members of Horry County council and other local business leaders about the need for I-73 construction. Fifty years later, an interstate to the coast has become a good idea because of the mistaken idea it will bring more tourists to the area.
Interestingly an interstate to the coast would probably be a greater help to the oil and gas industry if the exploration and recovery of offshore reserves proves financially feasible.
It’s going to be fun to watch how the dialogue develops over the next year on either of these issues. I can’t see tourism leaders getting behind a strong push for oil and gas drilling off the S.C. coast.
I can’t see I-73 advancing because of lack of money. The S.C. Senate is currently trying to come up with some way to raise road repair funds with little luck so far. It’s impossible to see that body helping to fund interstate construction to such a small section of the state.
You can never tell what will happen with political dialogue, however. If either or both of these issues does gain some momentum, it will be interesting to see who is doing the actual pushing behind the scenes.