Seismic tests for offshore oil drilling stopped off the coast of Georgia

Seismic tests for offshore oil drilling stopped off the coast of Georgia

For now, seismic testing appears to be dead in the water as businesses engaged in lawsuits over the contentious form of oil and gas exploration said they would not try it off the Atlantic coast, including off Georgia, this year.

NOAA Fisheries has been sued by the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, One Hundred Miles, and other non-profit organizations over its issuance of incidental harassment permits that are necessary for seismic testing permits.

Alice Miller Keyes of One Hundred Miles clarified that the permits are "basically permission for any business or person to damage or destroy endangered species in the South Atlantic off the Georgia coast."

Environmental organizations like hers said the licenses were too lenient and wanted to see how their findings were drawn by NOAA Fisheries.

"The incidental harassment permits issued on November 30, 2018, by NOAA Fisheries, and challenged in this case, will expire on or before November 30, 2020," they wrote in a U.S. filing. Dated Sept. 29, District Court for the District of South Carolina Charleston Division 

"The companies involved told the court orally on Thursday that they did not plan to step forward on seismic testing off the Atlantic coast this year, with less than two months before the permits expire and a month needed to enable states to issue" consistency orders. 

A ban on new offshore drilling was extended by President Donald Trump in early September, but that ban did not include seismic testing. However, with drilling off the table for the foreseeable future, exploration is less viable, too.

Ten Georgia communities have passed resolutions opposing seismic exploration and offshore drilling, including Tybee, Thunderbolt, Savannah, Richmond Hill, and Hinesville. Seismic testing is opposed by conservation groups because of the danger it presents to marine life and also because it provides a pathway to oil exploration offshore. 

"Catherine Wannamaker, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, representing the environmental groups, said," This is a major victory not just for us but for any coastal community that strongly and persistently protested the threat of seismic blasting. 

This year there will be no boats in the sea, and since this resets the clock, for a long time there will be no boats in the ocean. And we're going to continue to fight to keep it that way. 

For the remaining 400 North Atlantic right whales, which give birth off the coast of Georgia and Florida, seismic testing is seen as a special threat.

"The North Atlantic Right Whale, which is critically endangered, is everyone's treasured State Marine Mammal," Keyes said. But there is also the effect that other endangered species, such as sea turtles, and even non-endangered species, will be affected as well. 

"Seismic testing will have an effect on the whole marine environment, which is currently set up to operate in a world that doesn't suffer from these noisy air bursts."