The Interior Department continues to ignore the will of South Carolina residents as it keeps processing permits for offshore seismic testing, even though the Trump administration is legally hamstrung in its efforts to open up federal waters for oil drilling in the Atlantic and elsewhere. But the permitting process gives South Carolinians another chance to protest the practice of sonically pummeling the ocean.
As part of a “federal consistency review,” the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has a chance to go on record against a federal permit that would allow seismic testing over a vast swath of ocean from Virginia to Georgia.
Residents also have until July 1 to weigh in on the WesternGeco permit at epermweb.dhec.sc.gov. The company is a unit of Houston-based oil services giant Schlumberger.
Even though DHEC isn’t a Cabinet-level agency, Gov. Henry McMaster, in keeping with his position against offshore oil exploration, should urge DHEC to oppose the permit. Everyday citizens can amplify the message.
Separately, the Legislature helpfully passed a budget provision that forbids onshore infrastructure to support offshore oil exploration. S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson also has joined his counterparts in several other states in litigation aimed at halting the expansion of oil exploration, which threatens the state’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry.
Seismic surveys use an array of rapid-fire airguns to penetrate the water and seafloor to help identify pockets of oil and gas. But the noise also reverberates through the food chain, scattering fish populations and interfering with the ability of sea mammals to navigate and communicate. The blasts are roughly equivalent to that of a shotgun (local Congressman Joe Cunningham used an air horn in the House of Representatives to get the attention of his fellow lawmakers) and might also adversely affect fish eggs and plankton.
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management could soon sign off on permits for WesternGeco and five other surveying companies proposing surveys along the Atlantic’s continental shelf while the Trump administration appeals a federal court ruling that struck down an executive order to open up federal waters previously off limits.
And it’s also worth noting that no oil has ever been discovered in South Carolina or off its coast.
The potential harm from seismic testing, however, is very real. An Australian university study published in 2017 found that seismic testing can cause a two- to three-fold die-off in larval and adult plankton, tiny creatures that mostly live near the surface and form the base of the entire food chain. Some top feeders such as whales, including the endangered North Atlantic right whale, also rely on them for food.
Earlier this year, Canadian activists called for a moratorium on seismic testing based on a government study that showed a steady decline in plankton off the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador in the wake of seismic surveys.
For the past six years, South Carolinians have consistently fought against offshore oil exploration under two presidents. Here’s another chance to let the government know we don’t want or need it.