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James Is. opposes offshore drilling

  • Updated

The town of James Island has gone on record against drilling for oil and natural gas off the South Carolina coast.

That makes seven communities in South Carolina and a total of 19 in both Carolinas to go on record against offshore drilling. Hilton Head Island passed a similar resolution earlier this week.

Opponents of offshore drilling worry that spills could hurt the environment and the important coastal tourism industry. Supporters say energy development will create jobs and revenues for the states. They say oil drilling can be done safely.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is taking comments through the end of the month on what issues should be studied in developing an environmental impact statement on drilling off the Atlantic coast.

James Island’s stance came as three companies that conduct seismic surveys want South Carolina to sign off on applications for federal permits that would allow surveying for oil and natural gas in the Atlantic off the state’s coast as early as this summer.

Conservation groups say the use of air guns that send sound waves through the water could harm right whales and sea turtles and is inconsistent with the state’s Coastal Zone Management Program.

The companies, Spectrum, CGG Services, and GXT, all of which have offices in Houston, say in documents filed with the Department of Health and Environmental Control the surveys comply with coastal rules.

While state waters extend 3 miles offshore, the testing will be done in federal waters farther off the coast. The Obama administration is proposing that, if approved, any gas or oil drilling be no closer than 50 miles to the shore.

“No survey activities will take place in state waters and the nearest planned survey will be 25 miles offshore,” said documents filed by GXT. The company plans to survey from Delaware to Key West, Florida, to about 270 miles off the coast.

DHEC, which must certify the surveys comply with the state coastal program, asked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last August to be able to review survey applications before the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Although the surveys are farther offshore, DHEC wanted to know more about the impact on sea turtles nesting on the state’s beaches and impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries in state waters. NOAA gave the state permission in November for the reviews.

DHEC expects to make a decision on the first permit late next month and take up the other two in May, agency spokesman Jim Beasley said in an email on Friday.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is filing comments on behalf of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and seven other environmental groups.

In commenting on the Spectrum permit, the center noted seismic surveys could result in undue harm to marine mammals, including the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

The comments said impacts from “seismic survey proposals and potential future oil and gas drilling, threaten the sustainability of South Carolina’s coastal ecosystem and economy, and will provide little, if any, economic benefit.”

Chris DeScherer of the center’s office in Charleston said comments on the other two permits will be similar.

The Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management is reviewing if and where oil and gas leases might be issued on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf between 2017 and 2022.

Any DHEC decision on the surveying permits can be appealed to NOAA’s Office of General Counsel.

Advocates of offshore drilling say it will help the nation’s energy needs and mean jobs and revenues for the states. Opponents worry about spills and the effects on the environment and coastal tourism.

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