South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

SC Coastal Municipalities and Small Business Chamber Celebrate Seismic Lawsuit Win
Posted: October 6, 2020

Judge dismisses case on mootness grounds since seismic surveying cannot occur without contested authorizations.

CHARLESTON, S.C. – U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel of South Carolina issued a Rubin Order, or a conditional dismissal, of the federal seismic litigation following a concession from the Federal Defendants that the Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) allowing seismic blasting in the Atlantic will expire at the end of November and cannot be extended, renewed or reissued, and a concession from the seismic companies that they cannot begin surverying prior to the expiration.

As a result of these admissions, the five companies granted these permissions would have to completely restart the months-long permit application process, including the opportunity for public notice and comment.

Today’s decision is a major victory for the 16 coastal municipalities and the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce that challenged these IHAs that the National Marine Fisheries Service issued to the companies.

These IHAs would have allowed the companies to harass scores of marine life during seismic airgun blasting, a process that involves extremely loud, continuous blasts of acoustic pulses to map oil and gas deposits along the ocean floor.

“Preventing this harmful activity is a resounding victory for nearly every form of marine life, from phytoplankton at the base of the food chain to the endangered right whale, which would be harassed, injured or killed by seismic air gun blasting,” said Amy Armstrong, Executive Director of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP), “but we must remain vigilant and continue fighting to protect our coastal environment.”

SCELP, a nonprofit environmental law organization, filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of the Small Business Chamber and the municipalities challenging the harms that seismic would cause to the state’s environment and coastal economy.

Frank Knapp Jr., the President & CEO of the Small Business Chamber said, “We have won this battle to protect the Atlantic but not the war. I believe that if Mr. Trump is re-elected he will rescind this Executive Order on a drilling moratorium, new seismic permit applications will be submitted immediately, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will put the Atlantic in the next 5 year leasing plan that starts in 2022. Only a new Congress passing a bill and a new President signing it to ban offshore drilling in the Atlantic will win the war.”

Along with the Small Business Chamber, the 16 coastal municipalities named in suit include Beaufort, Charleston, Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, North Myrtle Beach, Bluffton, Briarcliffe Acres, Edisto Beach, Hilton Head Island, James Island, Kiawah Island, Mount Pleasant, Pawleys Island, Port Royal, Seabrook Island and Awendaw.

Quotes from municipalities:

“Winning a battle is clearly a win, and we appreciate the grassroots support and tenacious legal counsel. Rather than basking in victory, however, we must diligently continue our aggressive pursuit to permanently end seismic testing and drilling until the Congress and the Administration codify the elimination of dangerous seismic testing and drilling off our pristine coast. The House passed a measure that appears hidden in the U.S. Senate. Executive Orders come and go with the strike of a pen. Laws are what we need. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels, but a time to press on until there is a final solution, We still have a tall mountain to climb to bring an end to this nonsense,” according to Billy Keyserling, Mayor of City of Beaufort which was the first city in South Carolina to initiative petitions to the government several years ago.

“This decision is good news for Charleston and good news for the state of South Carolina. Seismic testing simply cannot be allowed to happen off our coast. Our quality of life and the livelihoods of too many of our citizens rely on a clean, healthy ocean habitat,” Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said.

Seabrook Island Mayor John Gregg cheered today’s ruling. “Dismissal is indeed good news for South Carolina’s coastal communities and the Town of Seabrook Island as seismic testing is off the table for now and into the foreseeable future. We thank SCELP for being such an effective advocate for us in our efforts to protect our coastal resources.”

“This is very good news!” said North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley. “Our beautiful environment, which is also of utmost important to our tourism industry, remains protected for a while longer. Together with other coastal jurisdictions, we will continue to monitor any future efforts pertaining to offshore drilling and, if challenged again, we will fight the good fight again.”

Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin said, “Stopping offshore drilling along the coast is vital to protect South Carolina’s beaches. Our beaches are a precious natural resource that provide habitat for several endangered species. They are also the foundation of a tourism economy that brings in over $20 billion dollars annually to our State. The outcome of this lawsuit is an important step, but we look forward to securing a permanent ban, backed by the Federal government. I am eager to work with our Congressional Representatives and Senators on this issue in the future.”

“We are pleased to learn of this victory. Protecting our coastal environment from all harm is critical for survival of all marine life and our overall quality of life. We are all connected to the ocean by virtue of living here and to see that connection obliterated would have been devastating to this community. This victory ensures the long-term vitality of our coastal waters for every creature that depends on it and for future generations to enjoy,” said Hilton Head Island Mayor John McCann.

“The court ruling regarding seismic testing is to be celebrated as a victory for our coastal South Carolina and the people of our state. While we can rejoice in this decision to protects our environment for the short term, let us remain vigilant in the future in case of any renewal of testing and drilling efforts,” said Jane Darby, Mayor of the Town of Edisto Beach.

Media contact:
Amy Armstrong, Esquire, [email protected]
South Carolina Environmental Law Project, (843) 527-0078

South Carolina Environmental Law Project is a nonprofit public interest law firm. Its mission is to protect the natural environment of South Carolina by providing legal services and advice to environmental organizations and concerned citizens and by improving the state’s system of environmental regulation.

Download available Seismic Rubin Order