Fight gears up on seismic testing now that Trump wants more offshore drilling

It’s called seismic testing and it’s an issue that’s turned controversial in past years. It’s unlikely to change especially after President Trump signed an Executive Order that many regard as friendly to the oil industry.

The order instructed the Department of the Interior to consider if offshore oil exploration should be allowed in the mid-Atlantic and Atlantic coasts. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) says before comes the actual drilling, comes something else. “Seismic testing is a prelude to drilling,” says Sierra Weaver from SELC.

A number of oil companies are appealing a ruling under the Obama Administration that outlawed seismic testing, which is the use of huge air guns that blast sound waves into the water to locate oil deposits underneath the water. “You have this issue of unnecessary harm to the marine environment, marine mammals which we know a lot about now and also harm to fish populations which is really sort of an emerging science,” says Weaver.

Opponents say the blasting (which is said to be thousands of times louder than a jet engine) is done for hours on end and can cause disruptions in food and migration patterns for the marine life in the area. It’s said in some cases, it causes dolphins to go deaf for example and in other cases, it prompts the marine life and fish not to return to the area (because of the memory of the blasting there.)

Weaver says that could impact local fishing along South Carolina or Georgia. ” We are very concerned about the impacts to the commercial fish stocks and recreational fish stocks,” she said.

She also says that the Obama Administration had a two year public input process in which more than 100 coastal communities up and down the Atlantic indicated they would not support offshore drilling..”So these communities, these residents who have expressed their opposition to drilling are saying we don’t want seismic here either,” she said.

Weaver says one lawmaker who appears to have been listening in the past two years is South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford (republican, 1st district) who has introduced a bill about offshore oil leasing. “The bill would put in place a ten year moratorium on oil exploration,” says Sanford. “It’s something I think is important to protect the economy of South Carolina and tourism up and down our coastlines and it would allow local communities to choose the way they want to develop instead of getting a mandate from Washington, D.C.”

But Georgia Congressman Buddy Carter, (republican from 1st district) has a different perspective. “It (Sanford’s bill) would restrict our energy potential,” said Carter. “And I just feel like we have to have more energy independence.”

Carter says the Executive Order only allows for the potential of offshore drilling, but to that end, he says he has no objection to seismic testing. “The record will show that it has been used safely for many years and has in fact been used for decades around the world and it is used almost daily in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Carter.

Cater also told us “he grew up in the 1st district, respects the beauty of the coast and would never do anything to harm the area.” However, he says he thinks the potential of offshore drilling needs to be explored.

We also received statements (on drilling) from Georgia Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue.

From Isakson – “I have always advocated for the expansion of our energy resources for Georgia and our country. I appreciate the administration’s decision to review these areas as a first step and reconsider the expansion of offshore resources that would help create new jobs and improve the energy security of our nation.”

From Perdue – “President Trump has a refreshing focus on generating jobs and unlocking our full energy potential. By approving the Keystone Pipeline and now lifting President Obama’s offshore leasing ban, President Trump is moving to develop a strategic approach to America’s God given energy resources.

Weaver however says their goal “will be to stop drilling which means to stop seismic testing off the Atlantic (which will ultimately stop drilling off the Atlantic.”)

SELC has intervened in the oil companies appeal to the Department of Interior to rescind the restriction on seismic testing.

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