May 4, 2015

SC regulators give their OK to first use of surveys for oil off coast

This image shows an example of seismic surveys (USGS)

This image shows an example of seismic surveys (USGS)

South Carolina environmental regulators have, with conditions, signed off on federal permits that would allow at least one company to begin searching for oil off the state’s coast.

The Associated Press reports the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) last week certified a permit for Spectrum GEO. The company plans to search for oil or gas off the coast through a process known as “seismic surveys.”

While the surveys will be carried out in federal waters at least 50 miles offshore, each state was allowed to review whether the surveys are consistent with existing local regulations. The federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) still must give their final approval before any work begins.

The surveys use devices known as “air guns,” which are towed behind vessels and shoot blasts of compressed air through the water and into the seabed. Researchers use reflections from the blast to map out the ocean floor, identify underwater fault lines, and analyze geologic formations that could hint about buried oil and gas deposits.

But environmental groups oppose the use air guns, which they claim hurt endangered right whales and sea turtles.

Spectrum is a British corporation that conducts seismic imaging around the world. It is one of several firms seeking the permits for surveys off the Carolinas coast.

The federal government estimated in 2012 that the undiscovered oil and gas resources beneath the entire U.S. Atlantic outer continental shelf range up to roughly 11 billion barrels, which is far less than the estimated reserves in the Gulf Coast or other heavily-drilled regions. However, many in the industry believe that more than 30-year-old estimate is low, given the advances in recovery technology since then.

New grant will help poor SC seniors make homes energy efficient

Duke Energy President Duke Gillespy signs documents authorizing the $1 million grant Friday. Sustaining Our Seniors' chair Coretta Bedsole sits to his right

Duke Energy SC President Clark Gillespy signs documents authorizing the $1 million grant Friday. Sustaining Our Seniors’ chair Coretta Bedsole sits to his right

A new grant will help older South Carolinians make their homes more energy efficient.

The state Office on Aging announced the $1 million grant from Duke Energy South Carolina last week. Most of the money will be used to create a new Senior Weatherization Fund that will help pay for work on some seniors’ homes to help them reduce energy use. Such weatherization can range from installing insulation or sealing cracks to even installing new heaters in a home.

The program is meant to target seniors living on a fixed income, according to AARP’s Coretta Bedsole, who chairs the Sustaining Our Seniors nonprofit that will help manage the program. “A safe, habitable, and properly-weatherized home is the key to ensuring seniors can remain in their homes,” she said.

The grant was part of Dukes’ 2013 rate case settlement agreement that allowed the utility to raise its rates by 10 percent over two years.

The Central Carolina Community Foundation will hold the funds in endowment, pooling it with other funds and investing it to help get maximum interest. President and CEO JoAnn Turnquist said that would ensure that Sustaining Our Seniors will have a steady source of funding for years into the future. Bedsole estimated about 30 more homes per year could be weatherized thanks to the grant.

Lt. Governor Henry McMaster, who oversees the Office on Aging, said a quarter of the grant will help the state improve its SCAccess website to better connect seniors with nonprofits that can help them.

“We have all the assets that we need to do everything that we need to do, but they’re not all coordinated and not all collaborated,” he told reporters during a press conference announcing the grant Friday. “But they’re out there.”

Demolition pushed back for retired coal plant near Conway

The retired Grainger facility dominates the skyline above Conway (File)

The retired Grainger facility dominates the skyline above Conway (File)

A Santee Cooper spokeswoman says work to demolish a shuttered coal plant outside Conway has been pushed back a few weeks.

The state-owned power utility had initially said crews with National Salvage and Service Corporation would start interior work on Monday at the former Grainger Generating Station. But spokeswoman Mollie Gore said the company had fallen behind due to weather delays on a previous project. But she said the contractor planned to begin work within the next two weeks.

“About the middle of May, people will start to see them coming in, bringing in some of the support infrastructure, mobilizing to prepare to start demolition,” she told South Carolina Radio Network.

She said crews would work six days a week, first starting demolition of the coal conveying equipment in June, followed by removal of buildings on the site over the next six months. She said the last structure to come down will likely be Grainger’s two prominent smokestacks. The utility believes work should wrap up by summer 2016.

[Read more…]

South Carolina gets first mother’s milk bank

The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), the South Carolina Birth Outcomes Initiative (SCBOI), the South Carolina Neonatology Consortium and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) have teamed up to open South Carolina’s first mother’s milk bank to improve the health of the state’s most vulnerable infants.

MUSC spokeswoman Heather Woolwine told South Carolina Radio Network it’s a way to get mother’s milk to the sickest babies across the state. “Donor milk from nursing moms who sometimes have excess milk, with the intent of that milk going to the pre-term babies here in our state.”

Woolwine said there is a screening procedure for participating mothers. “Some of the donor qualifications are, there’s a phone screening process once you register through the website.”  For more information about the Mother’s Milk Bank of South Carolina and how you can help, visit

The milk will be shared among infants at five regional hospitals that have a NICU: Greenville Health System, McLeod Health Hospital (Florence), MUSC (Charleston), Palmetto Health Richland (Columbia) and Spartanburg Regional Hospital. It will also be available to level II hospitals in our state when caring for very preterm infants born before 34 weeks gestational age.

Physically located in North Charleston, the milk bank, accredited by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America as a developing milk bank, will be operated by MUSC. Mothers will be able to donate breast milk already at 10 satellite milk bank depots around the state with seven more depots to open in the next few months. The average baby in the NICU needs 8 ounces of milk per day.  MMBSC expects to process and distribute more than 5,000 ounces of milk each month.



House committee authorizes MOX project’s continued construction, at reduced levels

Construction at the MOX Site in summer 2013 (Image: CB&I AREVA MOX Services)

Construction at the MOX Site in summer 2013 (Image: CB&I AREVA MOX Services)

A congressional committee has authorized another $345 million for construction of a facility that will eventually convert weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel at the Savannah River Site near Aiken.

The Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) Fabrication Facility would be given the same funding level that President Barack Obama requested in his proposed Fiscal Year 2016 budget, but is still scaled back from previous years. The National Nuclear Security Administration had requested $880 million as recently as 2013.

The House Armed Services Committee approved the line as part of the National Defense Authorization Act passed on Thursday. Congressman Joe Wilson, who serves on the committee, said that having the money at all was a victory. “It would not be in the interests of the American people not to finish (the MOX project),” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “It needs to be finished so that South Carolina is not left as a repository for weapons-grade plutonium.”

The project is part of a 2000 agreement with Russia that requires the U.S. to reduce 34 metric tons of plutonium from its arsenal. But the decision to convert the plutonium into commercial reactor fuel has come under heavy fire from both watchdog and budget groups now that construction has fallem years behind schedule. The MOX project’s budget has ballooned from $1.6 billion in 2004 to $7.7 by 2012 and keeps climbing as delays continue. The project had an initial completion date of 2007, but the now-indefinite completion will be at least 2020. [Read more…]