After taking several days to mull it over and plan a way forward, a group of environmental advocacy organizations from Georgia and the Carolinas filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston, S.C., to block seismic air gun testing off the Southeastern coast ahead of possible oil and gas drilling.
Alice Keyes, vice president for One Hundred Miles, said one of the reasons OHM is part of the suit is because they “believe our federal government is unlawfully and unjustifiably threatening marine species and taking it one step closer to offshore drilling. This is an industrial development that will transform Georgia’s working waterfront, our beaches and our pristine marshes.”
She said seismic testing poses a danger to the entire food chain, but especially to North Atlantic right whales. Keyes referenced a letter signed by 28 right whale experts and sent to the Obama administration in 2016 that suggested seismic testing off the Atlantic coast could provide a tipping point to the right whales’ path toward extinction.
“This is a pretty significant event, and it breaks my heart to think of the possibility of this species going extinct in my lifetime,” Keyes said.
She noted that municipalities such as Brunswick, St. Marys, Kingsland, Hinesville, Richmond Hill, Thunderbolt, Savannah and Tybee Island have issued resolutions opposing seismic testing and offshore drilling, as have Atlanta and Porterdale.
“Companies as large as Southwire, a company out of Carrollton, and local restaurants like The Atlantic in Savannah and Halyards Restaurant Group on St. Simons, are speaking out in opposition to this practice,” Keyes said. “Professional associations that work throughout our 100-mile coast are also speaking out. Professional associations include South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the Southern Shrimp Alliance and the Gullah-Geechee Fishing Association, just to name a few.
“Over 5,000 Georgia citizens and people who love our coast signed a petition in asking Gov. (Nathan) Deal to join them, and his fellow governors, to ask that Georgia be excluded from the federal plans for offshore lease sale drilling.”
Deal hasn’t taken a firm position on oil and gas exploration off the Georgia coast, but Gov.-elect Brian Kemp said before the election to The News that, “I support increasing our nation’s energy independence, but I do not support seismic testing or offshore drilling off the Georgia coast in order to do so. My priority as governor will be to protect our vibrant coastline, and ensure tourism and economic development and improve the lives of Georgians living in Brunswick and surrounding areas.”
Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey said he’s gone to Capitol Hill to talk with Sen. Johnny Isakson, Rep. Buddy Carter and federal officials to try to halt the process.
“We’re sitting on the coast — it affects us (directly),” Harvey said. “The seismic testing is basically a precursor to oil drilling, really. It was found out that the coast of Georgia doesn’t have that much oil reserves under the ocean anyhow.”
U.S. Rep.-elect Joe Cunningham, a Democrat who rode the offshore drilling issue to an improbable victory in South Carolina’s 1st District, said reinstating the offshore drilling ban is a top priority.
“I’m currently working on legislation to reinstate the ban on offshore drilling off the Atlantic Coast, and it will be the first bill that I introduce as a new member of Congress next year,” Cunningham said at a Tuesday news conference. “I’ve already spoken with the incoming chairman of the (House) Energy & Commerce Committee, Congressman Frank Pollone of New Jersey — a strong opponent of offshore drilling — to voice my support for any legislative efforts by his committee to bring back that ban once and for all.”
Carter, who has been a part of the House Energy & Commerce Committee during the 2017-18 session of Congress, has said multiple times that he favors an all-of-the-above energy strategy, which would by definition include offshore oil and gas exploration. He’s also said he disputes claims that seismic testing poses a threat to marine life.
Joining OHM in the federal lawsuit are the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the N.C. Coastal Federation, Oceana, the Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation.
In addition to the suit filed by the environmental advocacy groups, a number of South Carolina municipalities and the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce also filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Commerce secretary, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the federal assistant administrator for fisheries.
That suit includes the city of Beaufort, the city of Charleston, the city of Folly Beach, the city of Isle of Palms, the city of North Myrtle Beach, the town of Bluffton, the town of Briarcliffe Acres, the town of Edisto Beach, the town of Hilton Head Island, the town of James Island, the town of Kiawah Island, the town of Mount Pleasant, the town of Pawleys Island, the town of Port Royal, the town of Seabrook Island and the town of Awdenaw.