Bluffton, other communities voice concerns about seismic testing

Bluffton Today
July 6, 2019

By Dan Hunt

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Conservation received a letter this week from 16 coastal communities, including Bluffton, opposing seismic testing for offshore oil and gas deposits.

The letter was drafted on behalf of the communities by the nonprofit law firm S.C. Environmental Law Project. It was submitted as DHEC begins its review of a federal permit application for the company WesternGeco to perform seismic testing off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

“The seismic surveys proposed by WesternGeco involve towing an array of airguns that blast acoustic pulses at the ocean floor approximately every ten seconds, twenty-four hours a day, for months at a time,” a news release from the law firm said.

″(It’s) an injurious and extensive process known to harm and injure whales, sea turtles, fish and other marine animals and thus foreseeably harm South Carolina’s $22.6 billion tourism industry and its vital commercial and recreational fishery industries.”

Mayor Lisa Sulka said Wednesday the town signed off on the letter last spring after a series of meetings with the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the firm. The firm held onto the letter until an application like WesternGeco’s came to DHEC for review.

The 16 communities, a group that also includes Beaufort and Hilton Head Island, agreed to enter a lawsuit should a federal permit be approved. The communities wouldn’t be affected financially by the suit.

“It was not a monetary thing that we’d have to put it out and we are on the coast somewhat. And we neighbor Hilton Head and Beaufort, who really would see it. And that’s why we did it,” Sulka said.

“I’m not for (offshore drilling). Period. You hear the goods and the bads and the people that are for and against and they all have really good reasons, but at the end of the day I don’t want it to be visible from our shoreline. I think people would be a little nervous and it’s all about the environment.”

Gov. Henry McMaster has said he is opposed to offshore drilling and seismic testing, along with most of the S.C. Legislature, which passed a budget proviso in May that precludes the granting of permits to build infrastructure to support offshore drilling.

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