South Carolina political leaders are looking to the offshore for revenues from oil and natural gas drilling, proposing bills in the U.S. Senate and House to allow state officials to approve leasing off the South Carolina shore.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), backed by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), held a briefing Monday on Graham's South Carolina Offshore Drilling Act, which Lindsey said was aimed at opening access to U.S. reserves and breaking the nation's dependence on foreign oil imports.

Under the bill, no drilling would be allowed for the first 10 miles off the coast, but the area from 10 to 50 miles off the South Carolina coast would be designated an opt-in zone. The state, with the approval of the governor and legislature, could make these areas available for leasing, deciding the exact offshore location where the zone begins (10 miles off the coast, 12 miles, 15 miles, etc.) before leases are issued.

Under the legislation, 50% of the revenues would be returned to the federal government for deficit reduction, 37.5% would go to the state of South Carolina, and 12.5% would be directed to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Duncan said he would sponsor a House version of the bill. He already has introduced a bill that would open the entire Outer Continental Shelf for energy leases and permits.

The Obama administration's five-year (2012-2017) plan for oil and natural gas leasing in the Outer Continental Shelf, introduced last November would allow lease sales only in the portions of the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Alaska that have previously been open for drilling. Portions of the eastern Gulf off Florida and the East and West Coasts would continue to be excluded from leasing.

The Interior Department, however, has announced plans for seismic studies off the Mid- and South Atlantic coasts (see Daily GPI, May 10), which could lead to future leasing. Virginia political leaders also have lobbied to have their offshore opened for leasing, but some other Atlantic Coast states, most notably New Jersey and Florida, have opposed any moves toward drilling off the Atlantic Coast.

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