Offshore Oil Drilling

Not Worth the Risk: Communities up and down the Southeast coast have strongly opposed a plan to open up the Atlantic to offshore drilling.

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Officials deny Atlantic seismic permits following overwhelming opposition More »

In a move welcomed up and down the East Coast today, a federal agency denied permits for Atlantic seismic blasting, a precursor to offshore oil and gas drilling.

Seismic airgun blasting—used to survey the ocean floor for oil and gas deposits—has drawn intense opposition from coastal communities as it is seen as a prelude to the drilling they’ve rejected.

“Today’s decision shows that the U.S. government is listening to coastal residents, businesses, and local governments by halting seismic testing, which is a means to one end: offshore drilling,” said Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver. “There’s absolutely no reason to allow seismic testing, harmful on its own, when the Atlantic coast has overwhelmingly rejected offshore drilling.”

Ever since the announcement in August that all of the Atlantic would be removed from the federal government’s five-year lease sale for offshore drilling, drilling opponents have known the threat of seismic testing lingered. Today’s decision removes that threat.

Seismic testing works by firing powerful air guns for days or weeks at a time. The seismic blasts have been known to travel more than a thousand miles through the ocean, potentially disorienting, hurting, deafening, or even killing nearby marine life. Seismic blasts also drive away fish, drastically cutting commercial fishing production.

In addition, companies were hoping to conduct seismic testing off the coast of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, the only known calving ground for the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale. More than two dozen respected marine biologists recently said when it comes to the right whale, seismic blasting “may well represent a tipping point for the survival of this endangered whale, contributing significantly in a decline towards extinction.”

Seismic testing carries this harm without providing precise information about oil deposits and amounts. To definitively know how much oil is available for drilling, companies need to drill exploratory wells. Exploratory drilling is the riskiest offshore oil activity and what was taking place when the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico occurred, with the harm to that region still unfolding.

“The same concerns that made offshore drilling a bad idea apply to seismic testing—the drop in oil prices, the relatively small amounts of oil and gas believed to be under the Atlantic, and strong local, bipartisan opposition,” said Weaver. “We’re still going to have work to do to protect our coast from the Trump administration, but this is a great day for the Atlantic.”

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Defending Our Southern Coasts

Our Southern beaches are world famous destinations and our fisheries are among the most productive in the world. For 30 years, SELC has worked to protect our coastal resources and we remain a leading voice against opening the Southeast and new areas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling.

Risks of Oil Drilling

In early 2015, the federal government announced it was considering opening up the Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia coasts to offshore oil and gas drilling, a significant shift in federal policy that would jeopardize the communities, jobs, and beloved beaches that are the very heart of our coastal states. 

The governors of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia backed the plan with industry support, but the possibility of drilling off the coast galvanized locals who knew the dangers it posed to the area’s economy and environment. Altogether, more than 100 communities up and down the coast passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling and the harmful seismic testing that precedes it. 

In response to the incredible opposition from coastal communities, in 2016 the federal government removed the Atlantic from its offshore leasing plan, protecting all that is special about the Southeast coast.

Coastal Riches

The beautiful and biologically rich Southeast coastal areas and our Gulf Coast feature some of the most beloved places in the country, including the Chesapeake Bay, the Pamlico Sound, the ACE Basin, and Mobile Bay. Our coasts attract millions of tourists, anglers, and other visitors each year.

Tourism and fishing—both commercial and recreational—are the economic backbone of hundreds of communities along our coasts. 

Problematic Infrastructure

The environmental impacts of offshore drilling and its accompanying infrastructure and refineries onshore were well known even before the BP Gulf disaster. Ocean rigs routinely spill and leak oil—and sometimes blow out.

Even without a major spill, the industrialization and infrastructure associated with drilling—the rigs, refineries, pipelines, traffic, and routine spills and accidents—would irreparably change our coastal communities and economies.

The Next Battle: Seismic Testing 

Even though they are closely related, offshore drilling is regulated separately from seismic testing, a process of using loud airguns to test the ocean floor for fuels. So despite the recent decision to protect the Southeast from offshore drilling, the oil and gas industry continues to push seismic testing and the federal government is currently considering applications for seismic testing in the Atlantic.

Seismic testing is a means to one end: offshore oil and gas development, and it is widely opposed by residents, businesses, and local governments up and down the East Coast. There is absolutely no reason to allow seismic testing, harmful on its own, when the Atlantic coast has overwhelmingly rejected offshore drilling. SELC continues to work alongside coastal communities to ensure seismic testing does not move forward.

Not Worth the Risk

The South has too much to lose and too little to gain by opening up the Southeast coast and eastern Gulf to offshore oil drilling. Instead SELC advocates increased energy efficiency and development of clean, renewable energy sources like offshore wind and solar.

For more information and to get involved, visit ProtectOurCoastNow.com.