Lexington County Chronicle
May 16, 2019
By Jerry Bellune
Are federal officials ignoring a judge’s request for ocean oil test updates?
Are federal attorneys misleading the judge on Atlantic coast seismic permits?
These are questions SC coastal officials are asking.
State and municipal officials fear ocean floor tests for oil and gas will negatively affect the fishing industry and disrupt millions of dollars in coastal tourism.
The SC Small Business Chamber and 16 SC coastal cities filed a federal lawsuit against the Commerce Department December 11, 2018, over seismic testing.
US Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt last month said he was indefinitely delaying a 5-year plan for oil leases off the coast.
Small Business Chamber CEO Frank Knapp said he wrote Bernhardt asking about suspending seismic permits for oil testing.
Knapp said he wrote that the US should not be testing for offshore oil deposits, but he received no response.
In a May 2 order, US District Court Judge Richard Gergel asked the Commerce Department for the status of the seismic permits.
Justice Department attorneys responded that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is processing permits because neither Bernhardt nor the Interior Department has ordered it to do otherwise.
“We don’t get Secretary Bernhardt’s rationale for not delaying the seismic permitting process given that he has told BOEM to do exactly that with the 5-year plan process,” Knapp said.
One reason may be that government attorneys don’t want to pin on Secretary Bernhardt a misleading statement in the response to the judge’s request, he said.
“I think this is a disingenuous statement meant to mislead the court and public into thinking that BOEM routinely approves seismic testing permits for offshore oil exploration,” Knapp said.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the government’s response to a Judge Gergel directive has been misleading.”