Following Overwhelming Opposition from the Atlantic Coast,  Seismic Testing Permits Denied

Washington, D.C.— Following overwhelming opposition to Atlantic drilling from coastal communities, businesses, and the military, and a recent decision to block expansion of drilling by the Obama administration, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management today denied permits for seismic testing along the East Coast. Seismic airgun blasting—used to survey the ocean floor for oil and gas deposits—has drawn equally intense opposition from coastal communities as it is seen as a prelude to the drilling they’ve rejected.

“Today’s decision by BOEM 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 Sierra Weaver, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “There’s absolutely no reason to allow seismic testing, harmful on its own, when the Atlantic coast has overwhelmingly rejected offshore drilling.”

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. Studies have shown that seismic testing could potentially harm commercial and recreational fishing—central to coastal economies—by decreasing catch rates by as much as 80 percent. 

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 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 a fight in front of us to protect our coast from the Trump administration, but this is a great day for the Atlantic.”

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The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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