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Judge bars seismic permitting work during shutdown

A federal judge has barred the government from moving forward with seismic permitting and halted litigation surrounding the permits during the government shutdown.

The Trump administration ruled to allow companies to perform seismic air gun surveying to determine whether oil or gas exists below the Atlantic Ocean floor; municipalities and environmental groups have filed lawsuits to challenge the decision.

The Justice Department requested to delay court proceedings during the shutdown. Judge Richard Gergel of the U.S. District Court in South Carolina granted the delay and ruled that seismic permits also should not be processed during the shutdown. The Department of the Interior had recalled federal employees to continue working on the permits.

In his ruling, Gergel said that neither side should be allowed to move forward during the shutdown.


The National Marine Fisheries Service has granted permits for five companies to perform seismic air gun tests. The process involves setting off air gun blasts from ships to penetrate the sea floor; when the sound waves bounce back, data is sent to the ship about what exists below.

The blasts are typically done at 16,000 decibels multiple times a minute for up to a year; each company determines the frequency.

Proponents of President Donald Trump’s plan to expand domestic oil and gas exploration say the tests would yield accurate data that could lead to a lucrative industry that could bring new jobs to the East Coast.

Many coastal residents, environmentalists and business owners have spoken out strongly against the drilling, saying that it would harm the environment and sea creatures and that it would threaten the businesses and tourism industry that rely on the ocean.

The S.C. Environmental Law Project filed a lawsuit on Dec. 11 in federal district court in Charleston on behalf of 16 Lowcountry municipalities and the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce. The complaint challenges the Trump administration’s decision to allow testing off the East Coast. The lawsuit has since been merged with a similar one filed by numerous environmental groups.

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