Carolinas object to seismic blasting

A North Atlantic right whale and her calf.  (© NOAA)

State agencies in North and South Carolina have found that seismic blasting proposed for the Atlantic Ocean is not in line with the states’ coastal management plans, erecting yet another hurdle for the Trump administration’s quest to allow this precursor to offshore drilling.

Both states cited a combination of science and public opposition in determining that seismic blasting would adversely affect, among other things, coastal fisheries, recreational fishing, diving, and fish habitat.

The states objected to plans from WesternGeco, a seismic-testing company that proposed to search the seabed for oil and gas deposits from Virginia to Georgia. Both states told the testing company that its planned surveys were inconsistent with their coastal management laws and policies.

North Atlantic right whales are literally fighting for their survival.”

—Senior Attorney Catherine Wannamaker

SELC has been fighting proposed offshore drilling in the Atlantic, and the seismic blasting that precedes it, for years. The fight ramped up after President Trump’s election when he vowed to reconsider fast tracking the same seismic blasting and Atlantic drilling already rejected by the previous administration.

“The science has always been on our side, but what is really telling is the thousands of public comments opposing seismic blasting,” said SELC Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver, who heads the organization’s drilling response. “East Coast citizens, businesses and elected leaders have said time and time again that seismic blasting and oil drilling are not compatible with their economies and their way of life.”

In South Carolina, the state’s environmental agency announced it had received over 1,700 comments on WesternGeco’s proposal, all in opposition. South Carolina Congressman Joe Cunningham, who ran on an anti-drilling platform, tweeted, “This is a huge win in the fight to keep seismic testing and offshore drilling from happening off our coast!”

The fight, though, is far from over. Federal officials could dismiss the states’ positions and still allow seismic blasting to begin. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is expected to issue permits allowing seismic boats to get in the water in the coming weeks. The Trump administration, despite the widespread public and political resistance to seismic blasting and oil drilling, remains set on offering leases to oil companies whose executives and lobbyists are among Trump’s most ardent supporters.

Experts have said in court filings that the loud and near-constant seismic blasts would be harmful to whales, dolphins and other sea animals, including the critically endangered right whale.

Right whales typically give birth in the winter off the Southeast coast and travel north for the summer. Researchers believe there are only about 400 North Atlantic right whales remaining.

Deaths have matched or outpaced births in the past few years. In the waters off Canada, six right whales have been killed this year, and three more are entangled in fishing gear.

“North Atlantic right whales are literally fighting for their survival,” said SELC Senior Attorney Catherine Wannamaker, who is leading the organization’s seismic litigation in federal court in Charleston, South Carolina. “The species needs protection, not months of disruptive blasts from companies looking for places to erect unwanted oil rigs. That’s why we’re fighting so hard to block seismic blasting.”

The Trump administration’s push for Atlantic drilling and seismic blasting has faced near unanimous coastal opposition. More than 260 cities, towns and counties in East Coast states have passed resolutions in opposition.

East Coast citizens, businesses and elected leaders have said time and time again that seismic blasting and oil drilling are not compatible with their economies and their way of life.”

—Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver

In fact, 10 states, including South Carolina and North Carolina, have joined SELC’s litigation against the administration over seismic testing. Several North Carolina towns have submitted friend-of-the-court briefs opposing seismic blasting.

In a letter to supporters this week, Laura Cantral, executive director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, voiced appreciation that her state’s environmental agency had heeded the public comments.

“We thank (South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control) for protecting our coast and our essential fishing and tourism industries,” she wrote.

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