Offshore seismic testing for oil and gas deadline triggers SC request for injunction

Post and Courier
March 2, 2019

By Bo Petersen

The March 1 deadline arrived Friday that federal regulators told a judge would be the earliest that permits could be issued to allow blast-testing for oil and natural gas reserves in the Atlantic, including off South Carolina.

The Trump administration earlier gave the go-ahead for the work to begin.

As the deadline came, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson filed an injunction to block the testing, joining an injunction request filed previously by nine conservation groups, as well as a separate injunction filed by 16 coastal communities and the S.C. Small Business Chamber.

The motions are pending with the U.S. District Court in Charleston.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management could issue the permits “at their own peril” before the court issues a ruling, said attorney Catherine Wannamaker with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing the conservation groups.

There is a 30-day waiting period after permits are issued, she said, and BOEM previously has said no boats would be in the water for surveys before April 10.

BOEM “is completing its environmental review of the permit applications per the National Environmental Policy Act,” said spokeswoman Tracey Moriarty on Friday.

The testing would create a public nuisance for South Carolina, the adjacent landowner, by harming marine wildlife and consequently the state’s fishing and tourism industries, Wilson’s filing argues. He cited common law precedents prohibiting loud and disturbing sounds.

“It is no less a public nuisance because the noise directly affects marine life. As demonstrated, seismic testing harms all South Carolinians, as well,” Wilson said in the state’s motion.

The testing involves using loud airgun blasts underwater to map the oil and gas reserves under the ocean floor. The noise poses a danger to marine animals. The testing is a precursor to offshore drilling for oil and natural gas.

Both testing and drilling are widely opposed on the coast.

The issue pits a concern for the environment and South Carolina’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry, against potential new revenue and jobs.

The injunctions request the court to rule that permits cannot be issued until a federal case filed earlier by the three opponents can be heard.

That case challenges the Trump administration’s permitting of five companies to conduct testing, because specific activities allowed in the permits would violate federal protections for marine mammals.

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