Hidden Gulf Spill

FILE- In this March 31, 2015 aerial file photo, the wake of a supply vessel heading towards a working platform crosses over an oil sheen drifting from the site of the former Taylor Energy oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana.  (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Governments across the coastal Southeast, along with business leaders and countless residents have made it abundantly clear they don’t want drilling in Atlantic waters.

But heedless of that widespread opposition, the Trump administration moved a step closer to allowing oil exploration along the Atlantic Coast when the National Marine Fisheries Service approved permits Friday for seismic surveying.

Environmental groups rightly sounded alarms even before the announcement.

The “incidental harassment authorizations” for five seismic surveying companies open the door for mapping the seafloor subsurface to better determine where to drill for gas and oil. The process is a noisy one that disturbs marine mammals and could affect species throughout the ocean food chain.

“In addition to the harm that seismic airgun blasting would have on marine life, including whales, dolphins, sea turtles, fish and zooplankton — the foundation of the ocean food web — it is also the first step in opening the Atlantic to dirty and dangerous offshore drilling,” Diane Hoskins of Oceana told The Post and Courier.

Of particular concern is the endangered North Atlantic right whale, whose numbers have dwindled to about 400. The whales give birth off the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia. Researchers with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography say seismic blasting can cause whales to flee feeding and mating areas.

Federal waters along the Atlantic Coast have been off limits to oil exploration for at least three decades — and for good reason.

No recoverable deposits have ever been identified off the Southeast coast. Test wells drilled the late 1970s were dry. There’s no onshore infrastructure to support the oil industry. And even the rosiest estimates of what may lie untapped offshore — about $1.6 billion worth of oil over 20 years — don’t come close to rivaling the established multibillion-dollar coastal tourism business that would be put at risk.

The five seismic surveying companies still need permits from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. With BOEM approval, seismic surveying could start as early as next year. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

We expect our lawmakers, including Gov. Henry McMaster, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott and Rep.-elect Joe Cunningham, will let Mr. Trump’s administration know that the people of South Carolina will fight to protect the coast.

Attorneys with the Southern Environmental Law Center, representing scores of environmental groups, are vowing to fight the administration in court.

Seismic testing is an excessively disruptive way to search for oil and gas resources that shouldn’t be tapped into — whether or not they even exist.

It’s effectively impossible that surveyors could find anything beneath the Atlantic seafloor that would come close to rivaling the economic, environmental and quality of life benefits of clean coastal waters.