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Columbia Business Monthly

Black Gold

Oct 12, 2018 10:40AM ● By Kathleen Maris
By John Temple Ligon

The price of domestic oil on Friday, Oct. 5 was $74.29 a barrel, long up from 2016’s $26. For the past two years, oil exploration has been doing pretty well.
 
You don’t care? Not interested? Don’t follow such statistics? You should.
 
The U.S.A. is expected to produce more than 11 million barrels a day through the year, positioning the nation as the biggest oil producer in the world.
 
How can South Carolina play a part? To start, we can at least investigate the feasibility of the potential of offshore drilling. Besides, we can always use the money.
 
Just compare the University of South Carolina and Texas A&M University. After all, we compete in sports with A&M as fellow members of the Southeastern Conference; USC plays A&M on Oct. 13 here at Williams Brice Stadium.
 
Thanks to funds generated in part by the oil business, the A&M campus system has $10.5 billion in its endowment; USC, $656 million. Not even close, huh?
 
When I was in school at USC, I drove a cab and tended bar. Tips in both fields were pretty good for a student. But there was a limit, a painful maximum. Life in the food service industry defines itself pretty soon after entering the business, while your first night in the cab can easily be your best.
 
Our elected officials love to tout South Carolina’s tourist industry, a field where you can change sheets, wait tables, park cars, and tend bar. But that path is no place to win the wages to support a family.
 
Last year, Charleston had 6.9 million tourists who spent $7.37 billion, but go ask any of the tip-chasing players working the crowd if they might prefer working in offshore drilling after you tell them about the revenue differences — salaries start at around $40,000 for offshore oil workers but with experience can reach $60,000-$90,000.
 
While you’re talking to low-wage workers — most of whom probably haven’t spent much time in higher education — ask about academic opportunities. While they’re working their tails off chasing tips and struggling to pay both the household bills and college tuition, they need to hear that when it comes to per-student funding, South Carolina was ranked 40th in the country in 2016.
 
What would happen at USC if per-student funding could tap into an endowment like A&M’s $10.5 billion?
 
When it comes to oil, the mayor of Charleston has joined Gov. Henry McMaster in objection to offshore drilling, while Columbia and Greenville city councils voted to oppose it. I guess Charleston, Greenville, and Columbia — all of South Carolina, actually — are flush with wealth.

As for the environmental risk — yes, yes, there are always oil spills that come with the oil exploration. The mess following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will be fresh in our memories for the rest of our lives. It happens, but it happens in an industry that cleans up after itself while it continues to pay extraordinary wages and leaves behind serious support for developing necessities such as education.
 
BP stood and faced its responsibilities. The gulf has recovered and continues to recover, all at the expense of BP. After the oil disaster clean up in the Gulf, BP went over to the California coast and contributed $500 million to the University of California at Berkeley. Again, just to maintain relations.
 
Last year, President Donald Trump declared his support of offshore drilling, but Florida had already begged off. The Floridians and their 1,350 miles of coastline want to take their annual $67 billion in tourist revenues and keep clear of offshore drilling. The federal government said, “OK, you don’t have to drill.”
 
South Carolina, however, is still considering the idea. Elected officials are sounding more afraid of the risks, even though offshore drilling could bring “over $14.5 billion in additional economic output, $3.5 billion in more tax revenues, and nearly 17,000 jobs per year,” according to a 2014 University of Wyoming study.

I suspect the Palmetto State is already doing so well hustling for tips, they see no need for additional higher education funding.
 
As for the Aggies, feel free to and ask them on Oct. 13, “Hey, do you people take in any money from offshore drilling?”
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