Sonic Blasting Permit Blocked, Company Will Appeal


The Roy Cooper Administration recently used federal Coastal Zone Management Act authority to block WesternGeco’s request to conduct sonic blasting to search for offshore oil and gas deposits — but the company has asked the Trump Administration to override the objections.

WesternGeco requested permission to conduct the tests along the outer continental shelf from Maryland south past the coast of North Carolina to Florida. In June, the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management (DCM) formally objected to their federal permit application. DCM said the proposed testing would have “significant adverse impacts” on marine life and on commercial and recreational fisheries.

WesternGeco’s nearly continuous sonic blasting would involve ship-towed airgun arrays firing underwater sounds louder than a rocket launch about once every 10 seconds for about a year. Marine biologists’ consensus conclusion is this subsea surveying tool is disruptive to fisheries and harmful to whales and other marine mammals especially sensitive to sound.

Under the Coastal Zone Management Act, any affected state with an approved coastal management program (including North Carolina) can object to a federal environmental permit on the ground that the activity would be inconsistent with the goals of the program. The state’s finding of inconsistency will effectively block the issuance of the requested permit, unless the state’s objection is overridden by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. WesternGeco appealed the state’s findings to Ross this month.

In the “elections have consequences” file, make these notes:

  • Under former Gov. Pat McCrory, then Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Secretary Donald van der Vaart signed off on four similar sonic blasting requests.
  • However, President Barack Obama’s administration banned sonic blasting surveys off the mid-Atlantic coast, and the requested permits were rejected.
  • Gov. Cooper’s DCM has now reversed its position on the issue from the McCrory/van der Vaart days, blocking the permits at the state level.
  • Now, the ball is back in the federal court — and the question becomes whether Trump’s Commerce Department will override the state’s pro-environment decision. Coastal conservation advocates will be watching that question closely.

Up next, Duke Sued for Coal Ash Damages >>

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