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North Carolina: Oak Island, Caswell join court battle over drilling

Three Brunswick County beach communities continued their fight against offshore oil and gas drilling by joining a South Carolina lawsuit that seeks to block private companies from conducting seismic airgun tests in the Atlantic Ocean.

Oak Island, Caswell Beach and Sunset Beach have filed a friend of the court brief to support lawsuits brought by conservation groups and the City of Beaufort, S.C.

Should the U.S. District Court in Charleston, S.C. grant “leave,” the arguments made by local towns will become part of the record, Oak Island Town Attorney Brian Edes said last Tuesday.

The South Carolina plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction to halt seismic airgun testing for offshore energy deposits. The test area includes waters off Maryland, Virginia, both Carolinas and Georgia.

Reversing a ban imposed by the previous administration, President Donald Trump opened the Atlantic for testing and potential drilling last year. The Trump administration, however, has exempted Florida waters from drilling and the tests, which employ high-powered blasts of air that can be heard for hundreds of miles and can kill fish larvae and certain types of plankton, a building block of the marine food chain.

The South Carolina plaintiffs and local opponents contend the risk of oil spills outweigh the potential economic benefit of new oil or gas jobs. The lawsuit targets the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Commerce.

Called an “amicus” or friend of the court filing, the brief argues that local communities could suffer the same harm as Beaufort, S.C., and other towns if oil drilling rigs pop up offshore.

Filing

The eight-page brief speaks to Brunswick County’s 35 miles of ocean beach and the importance of the ocean to the larger economy.

“A healthy coastal ecosystem is vital to a healthy coast economy,” the brief states. “Coastal seismic air-gun testing stands to cause significant and irreparable (harm) to both.”

The filing states that the issue is not economics versus the environment. North Carolina’s ocean economy, the filing states, is imperiled by seismic testing.

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