Although President Donald Trump has expanded an offshore drilling moratorium to federal waters off North Carolina, conservation groups are concerned coastal environments could still be endangered by seismic testing.
The U.S. Department of Justice said in a court filing last week that moratoriums against drilling off of North Carolina and other Southeastern states do not prevent companies from conducting seismic testing, a method of mapping oil and natural gas deposits under the ocean floor by blasting loud noises from an array of air guns.. But in an interview with the News & Observer, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said he thinks the moratorium means there is “like zero” chance seismic testing will happen off of the North Carolina coast.
“The president’s action means that it’s extraordinarily unlikely, in my opinion, that there will ever be seismic done in these areas because the entire point of doing it for these companies — in order to want to sell it — is gone,” Bernhardt said.
Environmental groups disagree. Kristen Monsell, a spokeswoman for the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, said that even though the Atlantic seaboard was never opened to offshore drilling in the 2010s, several companies still submitted seismic testing applications to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
“I think that shows that oil and seismic companies will try to get into areas regardless of what’s open to leasing to do seismic to see what’s out there, and if they can find something, then push to have it open,” Monsell said.
The Center for Biological Diversity is one of many plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed in South Carolina trying to block the permitting of seismic testing, a lawsuit joined by N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein. The Department of Justice memo regarding seismic testing and the