A company wanting to conduct seismic blast-testing for oil and natural gas off the coast has appealed to the Trump administration to disregard South Carolina's rejection of the plans.
WesternGeco asked U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to permit the work, despite the state's objection, because the national interest outweighs its "adverse coastal effects," according to the appeal.
The Texas-based exploration company wants to test from Virginia to the Georgia border. The company also appealed a rejection in North Carolina.
The Commerce Department declined to comment Monday. A spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, which rejected the plans, also declined to comment.
Seismic testing involves using loud airgun blasts to map the oil and gas reserves under the ocean floor. The blasts have been shown to disrupt and injure sea creatures such as whales. The testing is a precursor to offshore drilling for oil and natural gas.
If Ross overrides the decision, each state can appeal to the federal courts, said attorney Catherine Wannamaker with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
"This appeal was expected, but it doesn’t mean anything has changed. Every coastal municipality in South Carolina and just about every coastal representative including Gov. (Henry) McMaster are opposed to seismic blasting and offshore drilling because of the overwhelming risk to our economy and our way of life," Wannamaker said.
"Those are the voices DHEC listened to, and those are the voices the Trump administration should listen to," she said.
The appeal follows a July review by DHEC that found the blast testing puts at risk the state's goal "to protect and, where possible, restore and enhance the coastal resources of South Carolina for this and succeeding generations."
The "federal consistency review" is an opportunity for states and their residents to object to a proposed federal leasing activity if it pollutes, creates hazards, disturbs valuable sites or interferes with local economic interests.
The department's notice was sent a week after a public comment session on the permit had closed. DHEC received 1,720 comments from residents, elected representatives and state, conservation and business interests.
All of them opposed at least some aspect of the work, according to officials.
Opposition to opening Atlantic Ocean waters to seismic testing and drilling has mustered along the Eastern seaboard since President Donald Trump announced the move as an early goal. The administration has continued to process applications but has been slow to approve or deny them.
In previous White House administrations, permit approvals have hinged partly on support of the onshore state government. Exploration is also opposed by McMaster in South Carolina, a Republican and close ally of the president.
"DHEC was clear: The proposed seismic testing permit is inconsistent with our state’s coastal protections," said Alan Hancock, energy and climate director for the Charleston-based Coastal Conservation League.
Five other companies have proposed conducting the tests off the state.