A US federal court judge issued a ruling on Friday barring the federal government from processing seismic testing permits for offshore oil drilling during the ongoing government shutdown.
Judge Richard Gergel of the South Carolina District Court issued the ruling in response to a petition signed by environmental groups and coastal municipalities, challenging the Trump administration’s efforts to expand offshore drilling in the US.
This ruling comes a few days after employees at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) were recalled to continue work on seismic permits despite the shutdown, a decision which drew objections from lawmakers and environmental groups.
The Justice Department had appealed for a stay in court proceedings, citing a lack of resources during the shutdown, which is currently the longest in US history. In his decision, Judge Gergel said that he would grant the stay, but wrote: “The Court enjoins the federal defendants, BOEM, and any other federal agency or entity from taking action to promulgate permits, otherwise approve, or take any other official action regarding the pending permit applications for oil and gas surveys in the Atlantic.”
South Carolina Coastal Conservation League director Laura Cantral said: “The government was trying to have its cake and eat it too, and we’re pleased the Court did not allow that to happen.
“This is an issue of critical importance to the coast, and one that must be handled openly, transparently, and fairly. This ruling will allow that to happen, and that is good for all concerned.”
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Connie Gillette, spokesperson for the BOEM, said that the agency would comply with Gergel’s order.
The Trump administration’s plans to pursue offshore drilling along the eastern seaboard have drawn criticism from coastal towns out of concerns that the operations could damage the marine ecology and in turn disrupt the tourism sector in coastal areas. South Carolina’s tourism industry is worth $20bn.
South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson, who joined the lawsuit against the drilling, said: “While oil and gas exploration could bring in billions of dollars, doing it without adequate study and precautions could end up costing billions of dollars and cause irreversible damage to our economy and coast.”