South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has formally requested that federal officials take South Carolina off the list for oil and natural gas leases in the Atlantic Ocean.

This is after U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke unilaterally removed Florida from the 2019-2024 proposed plan for offshore drilling following a brief meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Jan. 9.

Zinke had announced on Jan. 4 that the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had opened 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development. Zinke said Florida is exempt because it is “unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”

On Jan. 10, McMaster stated during a press conference: "I am opposed to offshore drilling off the South Carolina shore. I am opposed to seismic testing off the South Carolina shore. Our tourism industry and our glorious natural resources particularly in the Lowcountry are beyond compare in the United States. They are the source of enormous economic growth and prosperity and we can't take a chance with those resources, those industries and that economy. It's just too important."

On that same day, McMaster officially made the request to Zinke's office for a meeting to discuss removing South Carolina from the list. McMaster did not respond to questions from the Georgetown Times concerning the request.

Members of a grassroots group called Stop Oil Drilling in the Atlantic, or SODA, based in Pawleys Island say they are excited about McMaster's request. They are urging the public to contact McMaster and other U.S. elected officials to express their support for removing South Carolina from the list.

"We trust that the will of the people most impacted by this public decision will be taken very seriously and heard," said SODA leader Rev. Jim Watkins. "That is why it is really important to get behind the governor and thank him and and urge him on."

He also said, "I hope that the state legislature and public officials all across the state will have a united front to help us get removed from the plan. I think that the governor's action should be a rallying point for not only public officials but everyone."

Watkins stressed that the issue is not a partisan issue and drilling for oil and natural gas is opposed by many Republicans and Democrats. Governors of both parties from most East Coast states are opposed to offshore drilling, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Jew Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida, according to the Associated Press.

Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver with the Southern Environmental Law Center released the following statement after Zinke's announcement about removing Florida from the Trump Administration’s draft five-year offshore drilling plan.

“Two days in, the Trump Administration has shown us exactly what their offshore drilling proposal is all about and it has nothing to do with listening to local and state voices, economics or science. This is about playing politics with our coast,” the SELC statement said. “If it was anything but that, Secretary Zinke would have announced ... that he was removing Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, where offshore drilling has already been rejected by local and state voices."

Weaver said the fact is that an oil spill doesn’t know or care where one state ends and another begins.

"Florida remains at risk, just like all states in the Mid- and South Atlantic," Weaver said. "The Administration should end its crusade for Big Oil and actually listen to voices on the ground that made it crystal clear they do not want drilling off their coasts.”

She further stated that she would like to invite Zinke to visit the coasts of every Atlantic Coast state with their respective governors.

"He will find that each is unique and generates tourism, commercial fishing and recreation dollars that drive their local and state economies," Weaver said. "Every one of these states deserves Mr. Zinke reaching the same conclusion to continue the ban on offshore drilling on their outer continental shelf.”

Oceana, a national group dedicated to protecting the oceans, agreed. Oceana campaign director Diane Hoskins responded with the following statement:

"It is critical for every coastal governor opposed to this radical plan to contact Sec. Zinke immediately and relay their opposition. South Carolina's coastal communities and businesses understand that the risks and impacts of offshore drilling are far too dire. The Trump Administration's plan is absolutely incompatible with existing tourism, recreation and fishing industries and now it's time for Washington to listen."

Clayton Stairs/South Strand News