Hilton Head Island Packet
June 9, 2017
By Maggie Angst
The race to stop offshore drilling on the Atlantic is in full swing, and organizations up and down the coast are fighting against the clock.
A coalition of more than 60 organizations from South Carolina and along the Atlantic coastline expressed support for Congressman Mark Sanford’s “invaluable leadership in opposing offshore oil and gas drilling and seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean” on Thursday.
The coalition of organizations wrote a letter to Sanford articulating their support for the Coastal Economies Protection Act, which he introduced in April.
In response to President Donald Trump’s executive order to lift restrictions on offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Sanford’s bill proposes to suspend offshore drilling and all related activities for the next 10 years in the waters off of the Atlantic, Straits of Florida and Eastern Gulf of Mexico.
“If passed, this legislation would give our businesses, communities and organizations the assurance needed to ensure the longevity of our livelihoods without the fear of impacts from offshore drilling and seismic airgun blasting,” the coalition wrote in the letter.
On Monday, the Trump administration made a first step in advancing offshore drilling on the Atlantic, when they released a draft permit for seismic testing — giving the public 30 days to submit their comments.
The draft permit states that companies conducting seismic testing in the Atlantic would be allowed to “incidentally, but not intentionally, harass marine mammals.” It is the first permit companies must acquire before obtaining permission from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to begin testing.
“The administration’s latest action in opening the waters of the Atlantic to seismic testing is another in a string of decisions that is fundamentally at odds with the notion that the government closest to the people governs best,” Sanford said in a statement released Thursday.
“… I urge the administration to respect the wishes of the coastal communities that I represent as well as many others along the eastern seaboard, who so vocally oppose seismic testing,” the statement said.
Opposition to Atlantic offshore drilling and seismic airgun blasting has grown to millions of East Coast residents, more than 125 municipalities, 41,000 businesses and half a million fishing families.
South Carolina organizations that signed the letter to Sanford included the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, Lowcountry Local First, Don’t Drill SC Lowcountry, Conservation Voters of South Carolina and S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s extremely important that we have a bipartisan opposition to offshore drilling and seismic testing, and Congressman Sanford is providing leadership in the Republican party, which is vital,” said Frank Knapp, President of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce. “It’s critical from a legislative standpoint but also critical from a message standpoint, in order to raise awareness about the issue and educate fellow legislatures that this is something they should be paying attention to.”
NOAA is accepting public comments for 30 days on the proposed permits until July 7.
“We’re only a stone’s throw away from having vessels in the Atlantic blasting if we don’t slow down the process and stop it,” Knapp said.