GEORGETOWN, S.C. — A nonprofit environmental law firm representing 16 South Carolina coastal communities and small businesses filed this week a motion for a preliminary injunction in federal court asserting that seismic exploration for offshore oil and gas will cause irreparable harm and is contrary to the public interest.
The South Carolina Environmental Law Project, or SCELP, seeks to block seismic surveying that it says stands to devastate the Palmetto State’s multi-billion-dollar tourism, recreation and fishing industries. SCELP is representing Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Port Royal, Beaufort, Edisto Beach, Seabrook Island, Kiawah Island, Folly Beach, James Island, Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Awendaw, Pawleys Island, Briarcliffe Acres and North Myrtle Beach in the case.
“The coastal municipalities and small business chamber rely on the health and vitality of the marine ecosystem to support the quality of life and livelihood of their residents, as well as their local tourism and fisheries economies. They have very real, scientifically-supported concerns about how seismic blasting will harm marine life, which in turn will harm tourism, recreational and commercial fisheries, and the quality of life of their citizens,” said Amy Armstrong, executive director of SCELP.
SCELP’s lawsuit against the federal government was consolidated with one that regional and national conservation organizations had filed separately to block seismic surveys off the East Coast to prevent harm to ocean life. The conservation organizations filed on Feb. 20 their own motion for a preliminary injunction to block seismic surveys.
SCELP along with the South Carolina Small Business Chamber had filed an initial lawsuit on Dec. 11, 2018, contesting the validity of five incidental harassment authorizations issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service that allow seismic companies to harm and harass of hundreds of thousands of marine mammals. SCELP on Thursday asked Judge Richard Gergel to block companies from beginning seismic testing off the South Carolina coast until he can hear and rule on the merits of the case.
“The economic damage from seismic surveying for offshore oil starts on the first air gun blast,” said Frank Knapp Jr., president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce. “The destruction from that first blast and all the subsequent blasts can never be undone. That’s why it is imperative that seismic surveys not start while the legal process is ongoing.”
Billy Keyserling, mayor of Beaufort, South Carolina, said his city’s military and retirement community and tourist attractions will be put at risk by the proposed seismic activities. He cited Department of Defense opposition to seismic testing when put forth in President Obama’s five-year plan for energy exploration, which was eventually withdrawn by that administration.
“Our economy is built on the value of our natural assets, specifically the abundant opportunities for recreation and observation of marine life, alone with recreational, commercial and sustenance fisheries. Tourists come here especially to observe marine mammals and our businesses depend on our healthy and vibrant population of marine life, including dolphins and sea turtles. Our fishermen depend on the ability to catch fish in waters off our shores, and commercial fishing still supports the livelihood for many families,” he said.
Queen Quet Marquetta Goodwine, chieftess of the Gullah Geechee Nation and a native of St. Helena Island, South Carolina, said in a statement that members of the Gullah Geechee Sea Island Coalition fund their mission of preserving the minority group’s cultural history through offering ecotourism and cultural tourism tours, as well as providing education presentations to various local and tourists groups. She said about 75 percent of their work relies on the tourism industry.
“The members of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition are tremendously concerned about the impacts the proposed seismic testing will have on the ecology of our fisheries habitat, including the consequences of many species being displaced because of the activity. To our knowledge, seismic gun testing will change the ecological balance of the waterway in which it is done. This will cause certain ocean species to migrate away from the coast of our Sea Islands,” she said.