South Carolina environmental regulators have, with conditions, signed off on federal permits that would allow at least one company to begin searching for oil off the state’s coast.
The Associated Press reports the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) last week certified a permit for Spectrum GEO. The company plans to search for oil or gas off the coast through a process known as “seismic surveys.”
While the surveys will be carried out in federal waters at least 50 miles offshore, each state was allowed to review whether the surveys are consistent with existing local regulations. The federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) still must give their final approval before any work begins.
The surveys use devices known as “air guns,” which are towed behind vessels and shoot blasts of compressed air through the water and into the seabed. Researchers use reflections from the blast to map out the ocean floor, identify underwater fault lines, and analyze geologic formations that could hint about buried oil and gas deposits.
But environmental groups oppose the use air guns, which they claim hurt endangered right whales and sea turtles.
Spectrum is a British corporation that conducts seismic imaging around the world. It is one of several firms seeking the permits for surveys off the Carolinas coast.
The federal government estimated in 2012 that the undiscovered oil and gas resources beneath the entire U.S. Atlantic outer continental shelf range up to roughly 11 billion barrels, which is far less than the estimated reserves in the Gulf Coast or other heavily-drilled regions. However, many in the industry believe that more than 30-year-old estimate is low, given the advances in recovery technology since then.