Conservation groups locked in legal fight over seismic surveys off Atlantic coast

Seismic testing is a controversial topic for coastal communities
Seismic testing is a controversial topic for coastal communities(WTOC)
Updated: Dec. 5, 2019 at 5:12 PM EST
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TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WTOC) - The federal government is weighing whether to give five companies permits to start seismic blasting off the Atlantic coast. The governors of each state along the Atlantic coast have objected – including Georgia and South Carolina’s. Nine conservation groups are suing the National Marine Fisheries Service to prevent the seismic blasting, which is a precursor to offshore drilling. Conservation groups and industry associations cite science in their competing views.

This video shows how seismic tests work. A seismic array trails a ship and shoots off a signal every 10 seconds. That creates an image of the earth’s surface through sound waves, and in this case, shows where oil may be.

“It’s the same technology that’s used for [earthquake tests and looking for sand deposits for beach renourishments, and when it’s used for other applications, no one ever calls it ‘seismic blasting’, only when it comes to the oil and gas,” Gail Adams, a vice president with the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, said.

The International Association of Geophysical Contractors represents the companies seeking the seismic survey permits. One Hundred Miles is one of the nine groups suing the federal government.

“It’s extremely inaccurate for people to say that seismic blasting is not harmful,” Keyes, the vice president of coastal conservation for One Hundred Miles said.

Keyes argued the sound waves kill fish eggs, disrupt marine life, and scare fish away from important habitat. She fears it could have dire consequences for one species of whale.

“If we install another major stressor in the Atlantic Ocean, then we may cause the extinction of the North Atlantic right whale,” Keyes said.

“Our practical experience in doing the surveying over the more than half of a century indicates that there is no risk of direct, physical injury to marine mammals,” Adams said. “Don’t believe what the activists say. Don’t believe what the industry says. Go out and research the issue for yourself and then you can come to an educated conclusion.”

However, Georgia lawmakers don’t want the testing either though. They passed a bipartisan resolution opposing the drilling and seismic surveying during the last session. Georgia 1st District Congressman Buddy Carter took that resolution into consideration when asking the federal government to restrict testing off Georgia’s coast.

“Because we are opposed to offshore drilling off the coast of Georgia, there’s no need for seismic testing,” Carter, a republican, said.

Critics said his votes, like not supporting a ban on the Atlantic coast, don’t line up with that stance though.

“I would encourage them to look at the votes,” Carter said. “No, I’m not going to vote in favor of a blanket objection to it. I’m not going to be saying what other states should be doing. My concern is the state of Georgia. I will vote for Georgia to be, and I did offer an amendment for Georgia to be, exempted for that."

WTOC asked Keyes who she thought would lose if seismic surveying were allowed.

“The people who are dependent on the ocean would lose and certainly the animals in the ocean would lose,” Keyes said. “The voice of the people especially on the Atlantic coast has been very clear: it is not something that we need right now. Right now, the United States is a net exporter of oil. We do not need the reserves that are in the precious ocean.”

Keyes said they are concerned the permitting process could move forward any day – at which point they’d put up a strong fight. Adams pointed to the Gulf of Mexico as an example of how tourism and marine life can survive with the surveys and subsequent drilling.

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