Offshore oil surveys to start as opposition grows

Offshore oil surveys to start as opposition grows

Charleston Post & Courier

October 28, 2016

By Bo Petersen 

Nearly a half million commercial fishing families have joined the opposition to seismic testing for oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean, according to a South Carolina-based business chamber.

Meanwhile, a first, non-seismic survey is set to start.

The families, numbering more than 400,000, are part of a coastal residents and business movement that has coalesced into the tens of thousands in South Carolina alone. More than 100 Atlantic coastal communities, thousands of businesses and more than 1,000 elected officials also have called on President Barack Obama to stop the testing, according to South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and Oceana, an environmental advocate.

Meanwhile the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management continues to process permit applications from seven probe applicants, including six that want to search in waters off South Carolina.

“BOEM is currently in the process of reviewing those permits. Before the permits can be issued, careful environmental analysis is done to ensure the safety of the marine ecosystem,” spokeswoman Caryl Fagot said.

In seismic testing, powerfully loud air guns are fired underwater every 16 seconds or so to read “echoes” from the bottom geology. An eighth company has been approved to conduct gravity gradient and magnetic surveys from the air, relatively non-intrusive work.

The company has not started the surveys, Fagot said.

Controversy over the seismic testing has continued to spread after the Obama administration in March decided not to allow drilling for the resources along the Atlantic coast but did allow survey permitting to go ahead.

Conservationists oppose the testing because of the potential to disorient and injure marine animals. Business groups have joined them, concerned for the industry’s impact on multi-million-dollar coastal tourism revenue. Opposition figures say they expect a decision — if any is made — to come after the November election.

“This state needs fishing and ecotourism; this trickles down to literally every business in South Carolina including our own,” said Frank Knapp, the small business chamber president, quoting from comments the group has received.

Industry representatives say the surveys have taken place for a half-century with no direct evidence it harms sea  animals or commercial fishing and tourism.

“After more than 50 years of continuous seismic surveying around the world, including the Gulf of Mexico, and a decade of intense scrutiny by scientists, there is still no scientific support that the blasts harm marine life populations,” Nikki Martin, president of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, said earlier this year.

Eight Republicans joined 49 Democrats in a June letter to Obama opposing leasing the grounds offshore. The lead signees included Reps. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., and Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the only South Carolina delegation members to sign.

A coalition of governors, including Gov. Nikki Haley, have worked largely behind the scenes with industry lobbyists to urge federal officials in the Obama administration to open the Southeast coast to the work. It’s also supported by a number of legislators in South Carolina.

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