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Permits denied for seismic testing off S.C. coast

Ashley Heffernan
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Seismic testing for oil and gas in the waters off the S.C. coast will not take place after a federal government agency decided last week to deny geophysical and geological permits.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management denied six pending permit applications to conduct air gun seismic surveys in the mid- and south Atlantic Ocean, according to a news release.

The predrilling test method uses sound waves directed at the ocean floor to create images of the subsurface that oil and gas companies use to determine the best places to drill. Opponents of seismic testing say it is harmful to ocean wildlife.

“In the present circumstances and guided by an abundance of caution, we believe that the value of obtaining the geophysical and geological information from new airgun seismic surveys in the Atlantic does not outweigh the potential risks of those surveys’ acoustic pulse impacts on marine life,” BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said in the news release. “Since federal waters in the mid and south Atlantic have been removed from leasing consideration for the next five years, there is no immediate need for these surveys.” 

In March 2016, leases for oil and natural gas drilling off the mid- and south Atlantic coast were removed from a five-year offshore energy plan, in part because of strong local opposition.

The BOEM said it denied the six permits because of the possibility that the testing data would not be used, would be outdated if leases are approved in the future and lower-impact survey technology may be developed in the future, the news release said.

Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., was one of more than 50 members of the House of Representatives who sent a letter to President Barack Obama last year urging him not to allow seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean.

Following the BOEM’s decision to deny testing permits, Sanford issued a statement, calling it a “big win for our coastal communities.”

“This is important news for the coast of South Carolina and an issue that my office has prioritized, particularly in light of local input,” Sanford said. “It’s a decision that speaks volumes to the importance of voicing one’s opinion, and residents along our coast should be proud of the way they sent a compelling message to Washington.”

Reach Ashley Heffernan at 843-849-3144.

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