15 S.C. mayors urge Obama to say no to seismic blasting (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy)

A seismic survey ship in operation offshore mid-Atlantic states. File/International Association of Geophysical Contractors/Provided

Don't allow three companies to conduct seismic blast testing offshore, an environmental group is telling state regulators.

The South Carolina Environmental Law Project urged the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to work with federal regulators to reconsider approvals given four years ago. 

The request, which is not binding, was sent Tuesday. It comes after DHEC in July rejected plans by WesternGeco, a Texas-based exploration company to conduct seismic testing offshore. It is one of six companies seeking federal permits.

DHEC should use the same standards to re-evaluate the 2015 approvals for CGG Services Inc., GX Technology Corp. and Spectrum Geo Inc., said project attorney Amy Armstrong.

"Our goal is to both alert decision makers of this opportunity and to prod DHEC to exercise its authority to the fullest extent to protect our coastal resources from this harmful activity," she said.

The project acted on the behalf of 16 coastal municipalities and the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

A DHEC spokesman said the department would comment once staff had time to review the letter.

Seismic testing involves using loud airgun blasts underwater 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.

DHEC told WesternGeco and the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that 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."

Officially, DHEC found the testing is "not consistent" with its coastal policies. The agency's letters were sent a week after a public comment session on the permit had closed. DHEC received 1,720 comments, from elected representatives, state agencies to private residents.

All of them opposed at least some aspect of the work, according to officials.

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 company has the right to appeal to the federal Department of Commerce. The other two companies are still in review by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and have not come up for state review.

In previous White House administrations, permit approvals have hinged partly on support of the onshore state government. Exploration is also opposed by Gov. Henry McMaster in South Carolina, a Republican and close ally of President Donald Trump.

The future of federal approvals for testing and drilling for oil and natural gas offshore South Carolina is uncertain after an April remark by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. In response to a court ruling that blocked the work in Alaska, Bernhardt said the department would wait on the result of its appeal before going forward with the work.

But the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has continued to process applications for seismic permits.

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Reach Bo Petersen at @bopete on Twitter or 843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.

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