January 7, 2019
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has signed onto a lawsuit against the Trump administration in an effort to block seismic testing for oil and gas off the South Carolina coast.
Wilson becomes the first Republican attorney general to join a lawsuit by 16 S.C. cities and nine environmental groups who are seeking to halt permits for exploration off the Atlantic Coast.
The issue is of massive importance for South Carolina, where tourism is one of the state’s largest industries. For months, Gov. Henry McMaster has pleaded with the Trump administration for a drilling exemption that only Florida has received so far.
McMaster and other elected leaders have stated their unequivocal opposition to drilling off the South Carolina coast. Several S.C. lawmakers are filing bills in the General Assembly this year to block offshore drilling.
And voters in South Carolina’s coastal 1st District last year elected a Democrat for the first time in 40 years in part because of Democrat Joe Cunningham’s unflinching opposition to offshore drilling.
Last January, the Trump administration said it would lift allow new oil and gas drilling in nearly all U.S. waters.
Since then, McMaster has pleaded with the Trump administration for an exemption for the Palmetto State. So far, Florida is the only East Coast state to get one.
In November, companies were given the go-ahead to apply for five total permits to conduct seismic testing in the Atlantic.
Amy Armstrong, a Pawleys Island attorney handling the suit on behalf of 16 South Carolina cities, said Wilson’s entry into the case will help their efforts to stop seismic testing. She said Republican Wilson’s efforts show that stopping seismic testing and offshore drilling has become a non-partisan issue in South Carolina.
“This state joining in, supporting municipalities and the Small Business Chamber of Commerce in efforts to protect our coast, sends the message that we don’t want this in South Carolina,’’ said Armstrong, director of the non-profit S.C. Environmental Law Project.
Seismic testing is used to help find oil and natural gas deposits, but it is a major source of concern among environmentalists who say the practice could kill thousands of dolphins, whales and marine fish. The practice makes loud, booming noises that can affect ocean life.
It also is a major concern to opponents because it could lead to offshore drilling if the seismic blasts locate oil off of South Carolina. Many people in the state say drilling for oil would wreck the state’s multibillion dollar tourism economy by creating an industrial complex that is incompatible with tourism. They also say oil spills would tourism.
Most coastal cities, excluding Myrtle Beach, have are involved in Armstrong’s case.
“The federal government acknowledges that there are going to be over 300,000 individual marine mammals that will be harmed or harassed by these authorizations’’ for seismic testing, she said. “They’re hurting whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine species that exist in the waters of our coast.’’