Stop the feds from destroying SC coastal economy

The Beaufort Gazette and the Hilton Head Island Packet

October 4, 2016

By Frank Knapp Jr., Special to The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet

The Obama administration is very close to unleashing an underwater sonic boom attack off our Atlantic Coast, including South Carolina’s. You probably have two immediate questions. What am I talking about and why should you care?

First, a “sonic boom” is how Richard Viso, a professor in the Coastal Environment School at Coastal Carolina University, describes seismic testing.

Seismic testing is a highly dangerous process that uses intense airgun blasting to send extremely loud sound waves miles below the seafloor in a hunt for oil deposits. One seismic testing vessel can tow up to 96 airguns, which can cover an area 21 times larger than the National Mall in Washington. These sonic booms, which can be heard for thousands of miles underwater, are repeated every 10 to 12 seconds, creating one of the loudest noises in the oceans. Seismic testing under just one lease can go on for up to an entire year.

The Obama administration’s Department of Interior is set to issue up to nine seismic-testing permits because oil companies don’t share information. Ironically, earlier this year that same department reversed course on its plan to allow Mid- and South-Atlantic offshore drilling for oil and gas in response to overwhelming opposition from local governments, businesses and residents. Offshore drilling is off the table for at least 10 to 15 years and possibly forever.

Here is why you should care about seismic testing.

Along the Atlantic coast, nearly 1.4 million jobs and $95 billion in gross domestic product — mainly through fishing, tourism and recreation — rely on a healthy ocean ecosystem.

The biological damage seismic airgun blasting inflicts on marine life — fish, invertebrates, whales, dolphins, and sea turtles — is a serious economic danger to businesses that need these healthy ocean resources. Local coastal economies that depend on healthy oceans for related tourism activities and commercial fishing will be negatively impacted for years.

The threat is so serious that last month individual businesses and business organizations from New Jersey to Georgia met in North Myrtle Beach and formed a new organization, Business Alliance for the Protecting the Atlantic Coast (BAPAC), to oppose seismic testing. The editorial board of the Charleston Post and Courier quickly endorsed the effort “to ward off an environmental, economic disaster before it begins.”

Now you might have a new question. If offshore drilling can’t happen for at least 10 to 15 years and new, less damaging ways of testing for oil deposits under the ocean floor are being developed, why should we harm our marine life now with a soon-to-be outdated procedure? Excellent question and the answer is we shouldn’t.

BAPAC is collecting signatures of individual businesses and business organizations on a letter to the president calling on him to not issue permits for seismic testing. Join us in this vital effort to protect our vibrant coastal economy. Email me at and I’ll send you the link to the letter.

Frank Knapp Jr. is the president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

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