Federal Permit Request to Conduct Seismic Surveying in the Atlantic Ocean


On June 1, 2019, DHEC publicly noticed a request for a federal permit consistency review of proposed activities by WesternGeco, LLC (WesternGeco) to conduct two-dimensional seismic exploration activities in the federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean. In July 2019, DHEC determined that seismic activities proposed in a federal permit application by WesternGeco were not consistent with the applicable enforceable policies of the S.C. Coastal Zone Management Program (SCCZMP). DHEC provided formal notice of the determination to WesternGeco in a letter dated July 8, 2019.

WesternGeco filed a Notice of Appeal with the U.S. Department of Commerce on Sept. 20, 2019 requesting that the Secretary of Commerce override DHEC’s objection to the coastal zone consistency certification for the proposed activities. WesternGeco’s Principal Brief was filed on Oct. 21, 2019. DHEC filed its response with the Department of Commerce on December 3, 2019.

DHEC has also requested supplemental coordination with three companies that submitted federal permit applications in 2015 for seismic activities off the South Carolina coast: CGG Services Inc, GX Technology Corporation, and Spectrum Geo Inc. Based on the new and additional information and studies evaluated during WesternGeco’s 2019 consistency review, DHEC believes that the foreseeable coastal effects of seismic activities proposed by the three companies under the 2015 federal applications are substantially different than those initially described in their original consistency certifications.

DHEC provided letters to CGG Services Inc, GX Technology Corporation, and Spectrum Geo Inc. to request additional information under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act’s supplemental consistency certification process to determine if the seismic activities proposed under the 2015 federal applications are consistent with the state’s enforceable policies.  

Additional information and resources regarding proposed seismic activities are linked below.


In Jan. 2015, the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced its intention of opening areas of the Atlantic Ocean within federal jurisdiction to oil and gas development leases. In anticipation of this announcement, several private companies submitted applications to BOEM in 2014 to conduct seismic surveys offshore of South Carolina in federal waters of the Outer Continental Shelf. Based on existing law, DHEC does not have the authority to issue or deny a permit application for seismic surveying activities outside of its three-mile ocean jurisdiction. However, DHEC is granted the authority to review federal permit applications for any activity that may have a foreseeable effect on state coastal resources.

In 2014, DHEC made a request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is the entity that administers the Federal Coastal Zone Management Act, to review the federal permit applications for seismic surveying to ensure consistency with South Carolina's coastal zone management policies. While seismic surveying activities are proposed to take place outside of DHEC's regulatory jurisdiction (which is limited to 3 nautical miles off the coast), DHEC was granted limited authority to review 5 of the federal permit applications for 2 specific elements: the potential impacts of the seismic surveying on sea turtles and on commercial and recreational fisheries.

In 2015, DHEC conducted a consistency review of three federal permit applications for seismic activities proposed by CGG Services Inc (BOEM Federal Permit Number E14-005), GX Technology Corporation (BOEM Federal Permit Number E15-001), and Spectrum Geo Inc (BOEM Federal Permit Number E14-006). A 4th company, SeaBird Exploration (BOEM Federal Permit Number E14-002), withdrew their application from consideration prior to the state’s consistency review.

During the 2015 consistency reviews, DHEC worked closely with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council to obtain relevant scientific data and analysis regarding the proposed activities. Data was provided that allowed DHEC to impose specific conditions on those three federal permit applications. The conditions include additional protection measures to avoid impacts on sea turtles and on commercially and recreationally important fish species. Specifically, the conditions limit seismic surveying activities conducted by these three companies from occurring during turtle mating season (April through September) and within 40 nautical miles of shoreline. Additionally, conditions limit activities within Marine Protected Areas.

New and Additional Information and Studies

DHEC received the 5th federal permit application from WesternGeco, LLC (BOEM Federal Permit Number E14-004) on March 12, 2019 for a federal consistency review of proposed seismic activities in federal waters off the South Carolina coast. This federal permit application was subject to a consistency review by DHEC to determine whether the proposed activities were consistent with the applicable enforceable policies of the SCCZMP.

Based on review of information provided by WesternGeco and the body of scientific literature available, DHEC determined that the seismic survey activities proposed were not consistent with the applicable enforceable policies of the SCCZMP. DHEC provided formal notice of the determination to WesternGeco in a letter dated July 8, 2019.

As part of the federal consistency review, DHEC published a 30-day public comment period that closed July 1, 2019. Over 1,700 individual public comments were received during the comment period. DHEC evaluated these comments as part of its overall review in making its final determination.

As of Dec. 1, 2019, the above referenced federal permit applications for seismic surveying activities are still under review by BOEM and have not been issued. If issued by the federal government, each federal permit for seismic surveying would be valid for one year. The activities associated with these applications do not include the installation of infrastructure, drilling or other development activity for oil and gas.

Additional Information

Updated: 12/23/2019