In January of 2015, the SCSBCC announced its opposition to the exploration and drilling for oil off the Atlantic Coast. (SC Business Reasons for Opposing Offshore Oil Drilling/Seismic Testing)
In November of 2015, SCSBCC President and CEO Frank Knapp joined other businesses and elected officials in meeting with the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in Washington to make the case for the Obama Administration removing the Mid-Atlantic Coast from a new five-year plan for offshore oil drilling leases.
On March 15, 2016, the Obama Administration announced that it would not allow oil and natural gas drilling off the Mid-Atlantic coast thus reversing its earlier position. The SCSBCC was proud to have played such a prominent role in protecting our vibrant, small business tourism economy from the negative impact of offshore drilling.
However, because seismic testing permits to explore for oil in the Atlantic were still on track to be approved by BOEM, in September of 2016 the SCSBCC organized a meeting of East Coast business organizations and individual businesses in North Myrtle. At that meeting the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast (BAPAC) was formed with its members subsequently meeting in November 2016 with BOEM, the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of Commerce. At those meeting BAPAPC called for the seismic permits to be denied. Two petitions were also submitted to the President with that message.
Then in January of 2017 the Obama Administration denied all seismic testing permits for the Atlantic. Six seismic companies then appealed this ruling.
In early 2017 BAPAC was formalized with a Board of Directors and SCSBCC President/CEO Frank Knapp was elected President and CEO of BAPAC.
Also, in early 2017, the new Trump Administration issued an executive order reversing the Obama Administration’s denial of seismic testing permits. With the permits back on track, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) began the process of soliciting comments for the issuing of Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) which are required before seismic permits could be issued by BOEM. These IHAs are meant to establish procedures to minimize the harassment, injury and death to marine mammals resulting from seismic exploration for offshore oil. In July 2017 BAPAC submitted detailed comments to the NMFS in opposition to the IHAs being issued.
During 2017 BAPAC grew to over 42,000 businesses and 500,000 commercial fishing families supporting the organization’s efforts to continue opposing offshore drilling and testing in the Atlantic. On July 5, 2017, BAPAC submitted comments to the National Marine Fisheries Service in opposition to the issuing of Incidental Harassment Authorizations, a preliminary step to seismic testing permits being issued by BOEM.
BAPAC’s leadership resulted in growing bi-partisan opposition in Congress, governorships and state legislatures to Atlantic Coast offshore exploration and drilling for oil. This growing opposition was reflected in a February 2018 poll by Winthrop University, which found that 51 percent of South Carolinians surveyed opposed offshore drilling. Only 41 percent favored drilling.
In anticipation of legal action that would be needed to block the expected approval of IHAs, Mr. Knapp stepped down from leadership of BAPAC in April 2018 to focus the SCSBCC’s efforts on developing the legal challenge.
The SCSBCC also launched another attack on issuing the IHAs that had gone largely ignored. On April 19, 2018, SCSBCC submitted additional comments to the NMFS raising the danger of seismic testing causing the release of toxic chemicals from deteriorating cannisters of conventional, chemical and radioactive waste that had been dumped off the Atlantic Coast since the 1920’s.
Unfortunately, in late November of 2018 the NMFS did issue the IHAs setting up quick approval by BOEM of seismic testing permits.
Being prepared for the IHAs approvals, the SCSBCC and 16 of the state’s coastal municipalities filed a lawsuit in December of 2018 challenging the legality of those IHAs. The S.C. Environmental Law Project (SCELP) represented these plaintiffs. The SC Attorney General’s Office successfully petitioned the federal court to join the lawsuit.
Concurrently, national conservation organizations filed a similar lawsuit against the NMFS. These two suits were combined by the Court.
In February 2019 SCELP filed a motion for a preliminary injunction with the federal court to block NMFS from issuing seismic permits until the court rules on the lawsuit.
In April 2019 the Trump Administration announced plans to delay approving a new five year offshore oil leasing plan possibly until after the 2020 elections.
In May 2019 the SC Legislature voted overwhelmingly for a one-year ban on the use of state tax dollars by state agencies or local governments to facilitate any onshore infrastructure needed for offshore oil development. This one year budget proviso was also included in the state 2020/21 budget.
In September 2020, in an effort to win votes in Florida President Trump announced an Executive Order to prohibit drilling for oil in the Atlantic off the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina for 10 years starting in 2022. This moratorium was then extended to North Carolina and Virginia. BOEM determined that this moratorium did not apply to the IHA permits for seismic testing already issued by the US Department of Commerce.
In October 2020, after 22 months in Federal Court, the Judge dismissed the lawsuit the SCSBCC filed challenging the IHA permits issued by Commerce was mute because the permits were about to run, they could not be extended and the seismic companies said that they did not have enough time to get their boats in the water before the end of November. Effectively the lawsuit successfully ran out the clock on the permits thus protecting the Atlantic for at least several years.