Charleston Post and Courier, December 25, 2016
The Sumter Item, December 29, 2016
Greenville News, December 30, 2016
By Frank Knapp Jr.
This past week President Barack Obama had the opportunity to permanently protect our vibrant tourism, recreation and commercial fishing economies of the entire Atlantic Coast from offshore oil drilling. Disappointingly, he used his statutory power to protect only ecologically sensitive offshore areas from Maine to the Chesapeake Bay.
Many from North Carolina to Florida are asking why they didn’t get permanent protection also.
Mr. Obama had heard overwhelming and unprecedented unified opposition to offshore drilling and exploration because of its threat to our coastal economies. Making their business arguments against offshore drilling:
The Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, with over 35,000 businesses, including those of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, and 500,000 commercial fishing families from Maine to Florida. … 121 Atlantic Coast local governments, including every municipal government on the S.C. coast. … 64 members of Congress of both parties from Atlantic Coast states, including two Republicans and one Democrat from S.C. … S.C.’s incoming Republican Gov. Henry McMaster.
Mr. Obama heard our clear and strong message. Testing and drilling for oil off the Atlantic Coast should not be allowed. It would threaten our economies and jobs that depend on clean beaches and a healthy ocean. The inevitable oil spills would harm our local communities forever. But instead of basing his decision on concerns for our economies, he decided to listen only to science.
Mr. Obama gave permanent protection from offshore drilling to 31 deep canyons along the Atlantic Coast from Chesapeake Bay to Maine because scientists insist that these areas of “enhanced biodiversity” including coral, sponges, crabs, and fish are deserving of protection. It wasn’t that he was not sympathetic to the economic reasons for banning drilling off the Atlantic Coast. Rather it was concern for the inevitable court and congressional challenges to his actions by supporters of Big Oil. It was felt that banning offshore drilling could stand up against the opponents if the decision was based on science, even though that section of the law does not require this to be the rationale.
So now the South Atlantic Coast has much to worry about even before any possible drilling. Exploration for oil deposits in this area could receive permits from the Obama administration at any time. The process, called seismic airgun blasting, is an old, dangerous technology that blasts extremely loud sound waves miles below the seafloor in a hunt for oil deposits. One seismic vessel can tow up to 96 airguns that can cover an area 21 times larger than the National Mall in Washington. These blasts are repeated every 10 to 12 seconds and can be heard for thousands of miles under water.
If economic reasons are not sufficient for Mr. Obama to ban offshore drilling for the South Atlantic Coast, then he should deny the up to a half dozen seismic testing permits he is considering based on science. Here is what Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) scientists say will happen with seismic testing:
Marine mammals rely on sound for feeding, communication, navigation and mating. Studies have found that seismic airgun blasting can cause hearing impairment as well as physiological and behavioral changes.
BOEM data indicate that up to 138,000 marine mammals could be directly injured or harmed in this way. Millions more will be disturbed.
Other scientific studies have found that seismic testing negatively impacts fish and reduces commercial fish catches by 40-80 percent.
Marine scientists tell us that the South Atlantic Coast also has ecologically sensitive areas like Cape Hatteras off of the North Carolina shore and the Charleston Bump off the S.C. coast. Scientists also warn that seismic testing could bring the extinction of the endangered right whale.
Denying all seismic testing permits would give time for new, less damaging testing technology to be developed and for appeals to President Elect Trump to protect our jobs and economies from multinational oil companies. Mr. Obama at least owes us that.
Frank Knapp is the president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and co-founder of the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast.