Permits to hunt for oil, gas in Atlantic under review despite ruling, official says

Despite a recent announcement that plans to permit seismic testing off the East Coast were “indefinitely postponed,” the feds are still processing nine permits to test for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic, the Interior Secretary said recently.

“There’s no legal impediment to developing a leasing plan,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said, according to a video of a National Resources Committee meeting shared by South Carolina Congressman Joe Cunningham.

“I think we have up to nine permits in various stages of processing,” Bernhardt told the committee.

“I have until 2022 to get a new plan in place. I have some time, so I’m going to figure out what I’m going to do and then I’ll do it,” he said.

Last month, Trump administration officials said they were backing away “indefinitely” from plans that could lead to oil and gas drilling off the East Coast, the Wall Street Journal reported. They made that decision after a court ruling in March blocked drilling in the Arctic, the newspaper reported.

In the recent congressional committee meeting, Cunningham told the interior secretary, “Here’s what I’m worried about — you have the next step of the plan which has South Carolina and Florida directly in its crosshairs.”

“I think that this Administration and your office recognizes that this is electoral poison to put those on the map before the 2020 election. The court case in the Arctic is a convenient excuse to wait until that election passes, but the people of South Carolina are not going to be fooled by this,” he said.

South Carolina environmentalists and local governments filed separate lawsuits in federal court last year to stop the Trump administration from permitting testing for oil and gas off the East Coast.

“Ignoring the mounting opposition to offshore drilling, the decision to push forward with unnecessarily harmful seismic testing defies the law, let alone common sense,” Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Catherine Wannamaker said in a press release announcing the lawsuits.

“An overwhelming number of communities, businesses, and elected officials have made it clear that seismic blasting – a precursor to drilling that no one wants – has no place off our coasts,” she said.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.