South Carolina DHEC letter halts seismic testing in state waters

DHEC Statement on Seismic Testing

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A letter from South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to one of five companies that requested permits to conduct seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic, has halted the testing in state waters.

“Based on review of information provided, DHEC objects to WesternGeco’s Consistency Certification because the proposed activities are not consistent with the applicable enforceable policies,” the letter states.

Monday’s decision stopped WesternGeco from performing seismic testing within three miles of the South Carolina coast.

“Seismic airgun testing is the precursor to offshore drilling," said Peg Howell, a member of Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic. "It is the process where a large ship drags a loud acoustic array, basically a lot of things that go bang. It’ll shoot off those guns every ten seconds 24 hours a day, seven days a week. What the seismic is meant to do is help geologist map the underneath of the surface of the ocean.”

But Howell said this comes at the cost of marine life and she said this is supported by documents from the government.

“They provide what is called an IHA, or an Incidental Harassment Authorization, and they say this number of dolphins, this number of sea turtles, this number of whales can be harmed in one of two ways. They can either be killed, they can either be harmed so much that they’re injured or the can be behaviorally harmed," Howell said.

“During the public comment period, the Department received 1,720 public comments from federal, state and locally-elected officials, the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, the state Department of Natural Resources, and a number of other people and organizations,” DHEC’s letter stated.

DHEC said all of those comments were in opposition to the proposed activity of seismic surveying and/or potential future offshore oil and gas drilling.

But though South Carolina has objected to WesternGeco's request, it's up to the federal government if offshore drilling will happen within the federal waters.

“So the federal government can rule consistently with what the state has said or they can make a different decision,” said Howell.

But the federal government could be in favor of this testing.

“They could run the seismic right up to our state water boundary,” Howell said. “So yes, it will be visible from the coast, you will see boats going back and forth conducting seismic. But unless you’re in the water, you may not feel the pulse.”

But Howell hopes Monday’s decision will serve as a precedent, saying the state and the federal government will now have to decide what to do regarding the other companies requesting permission to conduct the testing.

The letter is a total of 14 pages and it goes into great detail explaining the decision along with background on what lead up to this.

For the full letter, you can click here.

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