South Carolina environmental regulators have rejected plans by one of six companies seeking federal permits to conduct seismic blast tests for oil and natural gas offshore.
WesternGeco, a Texas-based exploration company, wants to test from Virginia to the Georgia border.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control on Monday told the company and the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management the blast testing puts at risk the state's stated goal "to protect and, where possible, restore and enhance the coastal resources of South Carolina for this and succeeding generations."
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.
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" was 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 International Association of Geophysical Contractors, an advocate for exploration companies, is reviewing and evaluating the determination at this time, said spokeswoman Gail Adams.
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.
U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., an opponent of exploration and drilling off the state's coastal waters, on Monday said the finding is a huge win for the state and called for federal action.
"A diverse group of voices made their opposition to the issuance of seismic testing permits known," he said. "It’s obvious our state heard them loud and clear." Cunningham has a bill before Congress that would ban the offshore work.
BREAKING NEWS: DHEC ruled that seismic testing permits for federal waters off of South Carolina are NOT consistent with policies of the S.C. Coastal Management Program. This is a HUGE win in the fight to keep seismic testing & offshore drilling from happening off of our coast!— Rep. Joe Cunningham (@RepCunningham) July 8, 2019
The Texas company was the only one currently up for review by the state.
Six companies have a total seven permit applications pending at the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that could include testing off South Carolina.
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 BOEM has continued to process applications for seismic permits.