Opinion: We must fight against seismic testing and drilling

Charleston Post and Courier
December 6, 2018


The Trump administration is now one step closer to locking us into a future of dangerous offshore drilling. Last Friday, NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Service authorized private companies to begin the process of air gun blasting in pursuit of oil and gas off the South Carolina coast. This extremely loud and disruptive process is used to search for potential oil and gas deposits buried deep below the seafloor. This decision has

significant implications for our communities and our environment all along the East Coast. The proposed seismic air gun blasting would encompass a stretch of the Atlantic twice the size of California, including waters off the coast of South Carolina. The Fisheries Service granted five separate companies these authorizations, which overlap in both area and time frame. This means the Atlantic will suffer an unprecedented level of blasting, and the cumulative impacts of all five surveys will be felt along the entire Eastern Seaboard.

As a former ocean engineer, I know how destructive offshore drilling and exploration can be. Seismic air gun blasting alone has grave implications for our Atlantic ecosystems. Because blasts need to be loud enough to travel miles down into the ocean floor and back up to a ship, their noise can be heard underwater some 2,500 miles from the source — about the distance of a flight from New York to Los Angeles. Since most marine life depends on sound to communicate and navigate, such man-made noise can disrupt basic functions necessary for survival. Seismic air gun blasting can also cause drops in catch rates of some commercially and recreationally important fish species by as much as 80 percent. Noise from a single air gun can kill off zooplankton, an organism that underpins the marine food chain. That’s just one air gun — imagine how the effects of five companies’ air gun arrays will play out.

Exploration is step one in the long and unpredictable process of developing oil and gas. It sets our coast up for a future of drilling and spilling. Seismic blasting doesn’t prove oil and gas deposits exist. Companies must drill test wells to confirm the presence of any potential deposits and if they’re profitable. When BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and gushed over 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, it was tapping an exploratory well.

The impact of that one spill on fisheries could total $8.7 billion by 2020. Its oil slicks led to the loss of 10 million user-days of beach, fishing and boating activity. Such a disaster off our coast would starve South Carolina of its most valuable resources.

The precursor to drilling, these seismic activities are wholly unnecessary because East Coast states don’t want any drilling. By moving forward with exploration, the federal government is ignoring the voices of coastal residents from Florida to Maine. It’s completely disregarding the people on the ground who have the most to lose and putting the interests of industry first. It’s ignoring my constituents — the very citizens who elected me to protect their coast from the development of offshore drilling.

Every single coastal community in South Carolina is on the record against oil and gas activities in the Atlantic, including seismic blasting. As the 1st District’s new representative, I oppose this risky development, alongside my colleagues Jim Clyburn and Tom Rice, and our governor Henry McMaster. Leadership in Washington should respect states like South Carolina as it’s our waters that will be blasted and our coast that could soon be developed. Vibrant natural resources define coastal South Carolina – creating a unique way of life and generating revenues and jobs. If our thriving tourism, recreation, and fishing industries take the inevitable hit from oil exploration and development, the economic repercussions could be felt throughout the entire state.

Oil and gas development is the last thing the Lowcountry needs. As such, my first act as a member of Congress will be to introduce legislation to bring back the ban on offshore drilling along the Atlantic Coast. In the meantime, I look forward to fighting the administration’s reckless decision to proceed down the path to Atlantic drilling. Our coastline and livelihoods depend upon it.

Joe Cunningham is the 1st District’s congressman-elect.

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