Environmental groups, citizens await word about seismic testing

South Strand News
July 12, 2018

By Clayton Stairs

Opponents of offshore drilling for oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean are hoping that no news is good news when it comes to seismic testing permits issued by the federal government.

Meanwhile, citizens are trying to figure out if sonic blasts from seismic testing, which are used to determine locations of oil and natural gas, will release toxic materials on the ocean floor.

Amelia Thompson, a staff attorney for the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, a group representing 16 municipalities and organizations including the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and Stop Oil Drilling in the Atlantic, said if and when permits are issued, she and other lawyers will be ready to file lawsuits. She said the first step would be the issuance of Incidental Harassment Authorizations from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with approvals by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, followed by environmental assessments by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and then seismic testing permits.

“We anticipate that authorization of seismic testing permits would violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Protection Act and the Administrative Procedure Act,” she said. “They issued draft proposals for the IHAs for public comment over a year ago, but they have not issued the updated IHAs.”

Peg Howell, a founding member of SODA, said the IHAs will estimate how many marine animals could be negatively affected or killed by the seismic testing procedure. Thompson said the timeline is set by BOEM.

Tracy Moriarty, spokeswoman for BOEM, did not return calls by press time. In January U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced the next step for responsibly developing the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019-2024, which proposes to make over 90 percent of the total OCS acreage and more than 98 percent of oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available, a press release from January states.

“Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks,” Zinke wrote in the release.

The Draft Proposed Program includes 47 potential lease sales in 25 areas — 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, seven in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and nine in the Atlantic Region.

Rick Baumann, owner of Murrells Inlet Seafood and a member of SODA, traveled with Frank Knapp, president of the SCSBCOC, Mayor  Billy Keyserling of Beaufort and James Barton, a special underwater munitions expert from Virginia, to Washington, D.C., and met with BOEM officials on June 16. They went to discuss the possible danger of performing seismic testing on munition and radioactive/toxic waste dumps in the Atlantic Ocean.

Knapp said officials, including Walter Cruickshank, acting director of BOEM, and Dr. William Brown, chief environmental officer for BOEM, listened to their concerns but said they needed to see research before making any changes to their plans.

“They said we had not provided any literature review or research to demonstrate a potential problem,” Knapp said. “We’ve laid out that there is angst in the community and we don’t think its fair to ask people in the community, who are not scientists, to provide the research.”

Thompson said the way BOEM’s statutes are written, they are not required to do research to determine potential problems. Baumann said he thinks it should be researched by someone.

“According to Mr. Barton, only some of the dump sites are marked, but some of them aren’t and, more than likely, a lot of that dump material has moved or shifted because of storms or currents,” Baumann said. “The deck is stacked, but it is futile for the federal government to carry through with these plans because the public is not going to stand for it.”


Scroll to Top