South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

SC officials say proposed offshore testing will kill marine life, destroy SC’s coastal economy
March 4th, 2019

By Carla Field, WYFF

BEAUFORT, S.C. (WMBF contributed to this article) — A motion for an injunction to stop seismic surveying off South Carolina’s coast joins a lawsuit on behalf of 16 coastal communities and businesses asking that seismic blasting be prevented.

The South Carolina Environmental Law Project in a lawsuit filed Feb. 28 in Federal District Court in Charleston asserts that seismic blasting will cause irreparable harm and is contrary to the public interest.

The motion for an injunction joins the lawsuit that's aimed at blocking seismic testing and offshore drilling along the South Carolina coast.

The sixteen municipalities include 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 and North Myrtle Beach.

The South Carolina Small Business Chamber, also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, says seismic blasts drive away fish, whales and dolphins that help support the fishing and tourism industries along the coast.

The lawsuit and motion for injunction follow the Trump administration unveiling in January a new five-year plan to allow more drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.

"This is a start on looking at American energy dominance," Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said. He said the plan will make the U.S. "the strongest energy superpower."

Those in favor of off-shore drilling say changes are needed because the Obama administration made 94 percent of the outer continental shelf off-limits to development which hurt job growth.

Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown has continued to support offshore drilling, despite passionate opposition. The Post & Courier reported that Goldfinch said in December, "We are foolish if we don't find out at least what's out there. We've got to know what we have out there, and then we can have an informed debate."

Goldfinch testified before Congress in October that oil and gas jobs could help revitalize Georgetown's waterfront and he has called for a statewide referendum on offshore drilling, the Post & Courier reported.

“Once again, the federal government seeks to intrude upon the sovereignty of the state of South Carolina,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said. “Such action puts our state’s economy, tourism and beautiful natural resources at risk. We are bringing suit to protect the state’s economy and the rule of law.

“We understand the need to have a long-term, reliable energy supply. However, any comprehensive energy strategy must comply with the rule of law. While oil and gas exploration could bring in billions of dollars, doing it without adequate study and precautions could end up costing billions of dollars and cause irreversible damage to our economy and coast.”

Cpt. Mark Collins, owner of Blue Wave Adventure Dolphin Watch, told WMBF News: “Seismic testing does not find oil. It does not. When they send these pulses down they will penetrate the water column up to 18,000 feet deep. These pulses go down, strike the sediment and the geology underneath the ocean.”

He said this geographical information is then compared to areas where oil has been found, giving them an idea if there is the possibility of oil under the surface.

Collins said research shows seismic airguns that are used in an attempt to find oil and gas underneath the ocean floor are so loud they disturb, injure or kill marine life, harm commercial fisheries and disrupt coastal economies.

“The minute we flip that switch, we are killing animals," Collins said. "That’s bluntly put, that’s what’s going to happen. They are estimating five or six boats that will get these permits and each one of them has assessed in the permits that around 100,000 animals are going to die per boat in this testing.”

The attorney general and the other plaintiffs are asking that a federal judge issue an injunction to prohibit the seismic air gun surveys and to rule that the permission to allow the air gun use violates federal laws, or at the very least not allow the seismic testing to go forward until an objective, comprehensive study of the impact of the testing on South Carolina’s environment and economy has been ordered, received and evaluated by the Court.

“We are challenging the legality of the federal government authorizing testing and drilling off South Carolina’s coast,” Wilson said. “The rule of law must be followed by any administration.”

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