News & Updates

When It Comes to Offshore Drilling, Emotions Shouldn’t Rule Over Sound Science

By Bill Crowther
July 28, 2015

Moving forward with seismic surveying off South Carolina’s coast is the right decision. It’s a decision guided by sound science, in the best interest of the economy and backed by strong, bipartisan support.

For the first time in 40 years, South Carolina has the opportunity to better understand what resources lie off its coast. The federal government, after careful consideration, is allowing the state to conduct seismic surveying and bring new, important data to the decision to potentially pursue offshore exploration.

It’s a decision South Carolinians favor. Earlier this year, a poll found more than 70 percent of South Carolinians support offshore exploration.

While there are some outspoken opponents to seismic surveying who are trying to paint it as dangerous, the fact remains that it has been exhaustively researched and found safe. Seismic surveying involves sending sound waves into the water – think ultrasounds – that reflect off the rock layers below the ocean floor. The surveys show geologists where they might be able to find oil and natural gas.

Critics of the process claim sounds from surveys could hurt marine life or fishing. They say that fish might leave areas being surveyed, that reproduction or migration patterns could be disrupted, or that fish and marine mammals could be hurt. But those concerns don’t match the science.

The survey vessels operate far off the coast, moving at around five knots, and send out a sound wave every 10 to 15 seconds. So even if fish temporarily move away from the sound, the vessel clears out pretty quickly and the fish come back. The surveys are also highly regulated. Some sensitive areas are closed to testing for at least part of the year. Testing companies have to take steps to avoid testing near whales and dolphins.

Offshore seismic surveys have been done in countries around the world for many years and have been studied closely by scientists. There isn’t any evidence that they do damage to marine environments.

In fact, the surveys have gone on uninterrupted off the U.S. Gulf coast for decades, and the fishing industry there is stronger than ever. Commercial fishermen in the Gulf bring in over 1.7 billion pounds a year – that’s more than the total catch along the entire Atlantic coast.

While we all love our beaches and coastal waters, we can’t let emotion stop us from listening to the experts and gathering knowledge to make more informed choices about our energy future.

While it may seem unnecessary to understand what oil and natural gas resources are located off our coasts with prices at the pump low and U.S. oil production higher than it has been in decades, it would be foolish to assume lean times can’t come again.

It wasn’t so long ago, in fact just a year ago, when prices at the pump were well over $4 per gallon. And it was just a few years ago when it seemed U.S. oil production was in terminal decline and our reliance on unfriendly energy exporters was sure to grow.

Energy is a national security issue and the lifeblood of our economy. It is critical we pursue policies that make us more energy secure, not less. When given the opportunity to better understand what resources we potentially have under our feet, or just off our coasts, we should jump at the chance.

(Bill Crowther is president of the Atlantic Energy Alliance, and he lives in Murrells Inlet.)

Originally published in the South Strand News on July 29, 2015.