Federal Permit Request to Conduct Seismic Surveying in the Atlantic Ocean

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UPDATE
March 12, 2019, DHEC received a federal permit application from WesternGeco, LLC (BOEM Federal Permit Number E14-004) for a federal consistency review of proposed seismic activities in federal waters off the South Carolina coast. This federal permit application is subject to a consistency review by DHEC to determine whether the proposed activities are consistent with the applicable enforceable policies of the S.C. Coastal Zone Management Program (SCCZMP).

Based on review of information provided by WesternGeco and the body of scientific literature available, DHEC has determined that the seismic survey activities proposed by WesternGeco are not consistent with the applicable enforceable policies of the SCCZMP. DHEC provided formal notice of the determination to WesternGeco in a letter dated July 8, 2019.

WesternGeco’s federal permit application proposed to conduct 2D seismic exploration activities in federal waters on the Mid- and South-Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf. WesternGeco’s proposed seismic survey area extends from approximately 19 miles offshore of the southeast coast of Maryland south to approximately 50 miles offshore of St. Augustine, Florida. The proposed 2D survey area that was within the scope of the South Carolina consistency review is geographically located from approximately 32°N to 33.5°N and from 74°W to 79.5°W. WesternGeco estimated seismic operations to occur during 208 days over a period of about one year (allowing for contingencies).

As part of the federal consistency review, DHEC published a 30-day public comment period that closed July 1, 2019. Over 1,700 individual public comments were received during the comment period. DHEC evaluated these comments as part of its overall review in making its final determination.

While DHEC previously issued Conditional Coastal Zone Consistency for seismic activities to other companies in 2015, additional scientific research literature has been published since that time. DHEC considered this body of literature in its review of WesternGeco’s proposed activities.

Under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, WesternGeco may appeal DHEC’s determination to the federal Secretary of Commerce. This appeal must be filed by WesternGeco within 30 days from receipt of DHEC’s letter.

Additional information and resources regarding proposed seismic activities are linked below.

Background

In January 2015, the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced its intention of opening areas of the Atlantic Ocean within federal jurisdiction to oil and gas development leases. In anticipation of this announcement, several private companies submitted applications to BOEM in 2014 to conduct seismic surveys offshore of South Carolina in federal waters of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Based on existing law, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) does not have the authority to issue or deny a permit application for seismic surveying activities outside of its three-mile ocean jurisdiction. However, DHEC is granted the authority to review federal permit applications for any activity that may have a foreseeable effect on state coastal resources. 

In 2014, DHEC made a request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is the entity that administers the Federal Coastal Zone Management Act , to review the federal permit applications for seismic surveying to ensure consistency with South Carolina's coastal zone management policies. While seismic surveying activities are proposed to take place outside of DHEC's regulatory jurisdiction (which is limited to 3 nautical miles off the coast), DHEC was granted limited authority to review 5 of the federal permit applications for 2 specific elements: the potential impacts of the seismic surveying on sea turtles and on commercial and recreational fisheries.

In 2015, DHEC conducted a consistency review of 3 federal permit applications for seismic activities proposed by CGG Services Inc (BOEM Federal Permit Number E14-005), GX Technology Corporation (BOEM Federal Permit Number E15-001), and Spectrum Geo Inc (BOEM Federal Permit Number E14-006). A 4th company, SeaBird Exploration (BOEM Federal Permit Number E14-002), withdrew their application from consideration prior to the state’s consistency review. 

During the 2015 consistency reviews, DHEC worked closely with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources , the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council to obtain relevant scientific data and analysis regarding the proposed activities. Data was provided that allowed DHEC to impose specific conditions on those 3 federal permit applications. The conditions include additional protection measures to avoid impacts on sea turtles and on commercially and recreationally important fish species. Specifically, the conditions limit seismic surveying activities conducted by these 3 companies from occurring during turtle mating season (April through September) and within 40 nautical miles of shoreline. Additionally, conditions limit activities within Marine Protected Areas.

DHEC received the 5th federal permit application from WesternGeco, LLC (BOEM Federal Permit Number E14-004) on March 12, 2019 for the state’s consistency review of their proposed seismic activities in federal waters off of the South Carolina coast. As part of the federal consistency review, DHEC provided notice of a 30-day public comment period which closed on July 1, 2019.

As of July 1, 2019, the above referenced federal permit applications for seismic surveying activities are still under review by BOEM and have not been issued. If issued by the federal government, each federal permit for seismic surveying would be valid for one year. The activities associated with these applications do not include the installation of infrastructure, drilling or other development activity for oil and gas. 

Additional Information

Updated: 7/8/2019

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