South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Seismic Testing

Less than two years ago, SCELP and its allies were celebrating the withdrawal of the Atlantic from the five-year plan for offshore drilling, which resulted in the denial of all pending permits to conduct seismic airgun surveying in the Atlantic. The seismic companies appealed that decision and SCELP, representing BAPAC, moved to intervene and defend our coast against harmful seismic airguns.

This victory was short-lived, as the Trump administration introduced an all-of-the-above energy strategy, and ordered the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM) to reconsider the Atlantic for both seismic and drilling offshore. As a result, BOEM remanded the pending seismic permits to itself and resumed its review process.

In the summer of 2017 five draft incidental harassment authorizations (IHAs) were proposed for seismic companies to conduct airgun surveys in the Atlantic. SCELP commented in opposition to these authorizations, which would allow seismic airgun arrays to be dragged across the Atlantic, as close as three miles offshore, making blasting sounds every ten seconds for months on end.

In anticipation of the issuance of final IHAs, which finally occurred on November 30th, SCELP has been preparing to file a federal lawsuit challenging seismic for the harms it would cause to our environment and coastal economy ever since.

Seismic is disastrous at all levels

Seismic airgun surveying is done in preparation for offshore oil and gas drilling, which is unanimously opposed by every coastal municipality in South Carolina. Seismic airguns are drug by boats in large arrays along the surface of the ocean. The airguns blast sound downward at 16,000 decibels, every ten seconds, twenty-four hours a day. The blasting area will be offshore from Delaware to Florida, and last for about a year. Seismic airgun surveying has been shown to injure and drive away marine life, from destroying microscopic zooplankton at the base of the oceanic food chain to harassing the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.

South to North, these are the municipalities taking action, along with the SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce, all represented pro bono by SCELP: Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Port Royal, Beaufort, Edisto Beach, Seabrook Island, Kiawah Island, Folly Beach, James Island, Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Awendaw, Pawleys Island, Briarcliffe Acres, North Myrtle Beach.

Join the Fight!

Case Update

On December 11th, SCELP filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Charleston, SC, contesting the validity of authorizations to harass hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, issued by National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”). The authorizations were wrongly issued, according to the complaint, because they violate multiple federal statutes, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. Importantly, NMFS failed to consider the cumulative impacts of allowing an unprecedented amount of seismic airgun surveying to be conducted along in the Atlantic. Five surveying companies will blast and reblast much of the same area, in turn, as they each gather their own proprietary data to be sold to big oil companies in anticipation of offshore drilling.

Read our press release and complaint below. Here's a selection of the local press coverage:

We are currently awaiting a ruling from a Federal Judge on our request to force the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to provide us with all of the documents before the agency in making its determination to issue IHAs in our case.

Files and Downloads
Seismic Testing

Join the Fight!

Seismic Testing

Credit: Witt Langstaff, Jr.

Seismic Testing

Credit: Tanya Ackerman

Seismic Testing

Press Conference & Rally after filing the lawsuits in Charleston on December 11th