Environmental groups are praising an Obama Administration decision to reject permits from several energy companies wanting to search for oil and natural gas off South Carolina’s coast.
The Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM) announced Friday it had denied six different permits for companies hoping to conduct seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean. The move came two years after BOEM crafted requirements for those companies, but 10 months after it dropped plans to permit the testing. It also came down less than two weeks before President-elect Donald Trump, who is more sympathetic to oil drilling, is sworn into office.
“Seismic testing” uses air guns to send sonic blasts through the ocean’s depths and measures the echo to map out the bottom for possible oil or gas deposits. The devices have been used for decades in the Gulf of Mexico. State regulators had already approved three permits outside of the federal application process.
But environmental groups lobbied hard against the permits, noting they would be a precursor to any future oil exploration in the Atlantic. “Seismic testing is sort of the gateway, the first step, to offshore drilling for oil and gas,” Coastal Conservation League spokesman Alan Hancock said.
Hancock said the guns can harm marine wildlife which rely on their own natural form of sonic hearing to feed or navigate, such as whales and dolphins.
But the American Petroleum Institute (API) argued the move was done for purely political reasons before a more industry-friendly president comes into office. API Director of Upstream and Industry Operations Erik Milito said BOEM’s own data and research indicated the process was safe and could not determine any impact on ocean mammals. “It’s clear that this is a politically driven decision that flies in the face of the best available science,” he said in a statement. “As BOEM has reiterated a number of times previously, seismic surveys are a safe, efficient and scientifically proven way to find potential new sources of energy.”
South Carolina’s coastal communities had lobbied hard against the testing, as did some congressmen who represent them. U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford credited the coastal outcry with helping reverse BOEM’s position on the permits. “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,” he said in a statement.
Gov. Nikki Haley has previously supported the tests, believing the natural gas potential would benefit South Carolina’s economy. She did not comment on Friday’s announcement.