July 29, 2015

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Seismic surveying is the mapping of the ocean floor to conduct oil and gas exploration, evaluate seafloor conditions for renewable energy installations, and analyze marine mineral deposits.  (If you want to know more about seismic testing, the US Geological Survey has provided an overview here.)

In 2008, a federal moratorium on oil and gas development activities along the US coast was lifted, and Congress mandated that the US Department of Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) evaluate the environmental impact of geological and geophysical activities in the Atlantic Ocean.  Last year, BOEM released the Atlantic Geological and Geophysical Activities Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, which sets forth the environmental impacts from potential seismic activities and identifies strategies for mitigating and monitoring those activities.

In January, BOEM proposed opening certain areas of the Atlantic Ocean within federal jurisdiction to oil and gas development leases.  Several companies have submitted federal permit requests to BOEM to conduct seismic surveys in the federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, off the South Carolina coast.  While the proposed seismic surveying would occur outside of the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control’s (DHEC) jurisdiction, the agency was granted limited authority to review and comment on two aspects of federal permit applications for seismic surveying: the potential impacts on sea turtles and commercial and recreational fisheries.  As a result, DHEC has imposed conditions limiting seismic surveying activities from occurring during turtle mating season (April through September) and within 40 nautical miles of shore.

BOEM is presently evaluating the permits submitted by companies proposing seismic surveys off the South Carolina coast.  You can track those applications here.