Mid-Atlantic
AL SEIB TNS

Court filing renews Federal commitment to Atlantic exploration

CHARLESTON, SC — In a court filing late Thursday, the federal government said it is “simply evaluating all its options,” when it comes to its drilling plan, appearing to soften previous comments from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt that an Alaska court decision had put on hold the Trump administration’s push to open the Atlantic Ocean and other waters to offshore oil rigs.

The declaration from Walter Cruickshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, came in response to an order from Judge Richard Gergel, who is presiding over litigation regarding seismic testing permits in United States District Court in Charleston, South Carolina. The judge asked what effect the “recently reported announcement by the Secretary of the Interior” could have on the pursuit of seismic blasting in the Atlantic.

Cruickshank said the seismic permits were not directly related to drilling and could be issued even if drilling plans are not moving ahead. He wrote that BOEM is proceeding with the seismic permit process, and he appeared to downplay what has been widely reported as an indefinite drilling delay in light of an Alaska court decision that voided President Trump’s reversal of previous ocean protections.

This latest take has added further concern over the future of offshore exploration, an issue of critical importance to the East Coast’s ocean and tourism economies. All East Coast governors oppose seismic blasting and oil drilling, as do 260 cities, counties and towns in East Coast states.

Since late last month when Interior Secretary David Bernhardt indicated in an interview that the Trump administration was indefinitely sidelining the drilling plan, both he and other officials have done little to clarify what that means. Some news reports, quoting federal officials, have said the plan is on hold until after the 2020 election, while others seem to suggest the delay could be more temporary.

“This administration is well aware that drilling is profoundly unpopular, and they’re misleading the public as a result,” said Nat Mund, director of federal affairs for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We have the administration telling the public that drilling plans have been indefinitely delayed, while telling the court that they need to move ahead with harmful seismic testing immediately because all options are on the table. Coastal states deserve a more truthful and transparent approach.”

Catherine Wannamaker, a senior SELC attorney in Charleston, said, “It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the Trump administration continues trying to green-light permits that will harm thousands of whales and dolphins. Oil drilling and seismic blasting are both so staunchly opposed here by businesses and conservationists, Republicans and Democrats. You’d be hard pressed to find any support for the administration’s plans for the Atlantic coast.”