Date ArticleType
12/12/2017 Member News
Opinion: Stop Worrying About Whales and Dolphins. Seismic Testing Will Be Good For SC

Critics say seismic testing off the Atlantic coast, a first step toward opening the waters of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia to oil drilling, would harm the North Atlantic right whale and other fish. USC professor James Knapp says there’s no evidence of that. NOAA

Stop worrying about whales and dolphins. Seismic testing will be good for SC.

DECEMBER 08, 2017 10:15 AM
UPDATED DECEMBER 08, 2017 10:16 AM

COLUMBIA, SC - Contrary to what you’d think from the debate over seismic surveys in the Atlantic Ocean, marine seismic surveys have been conducted for more than 80 years, on every continental margin, and throughout most ocean basins. They are a demonstrably safe and fundamentally critical technique for understanding what lies beneath the Earth’s surface.

While I have been a vocal advocate for new seismic surveys in the Atlantic for nearly a decade, I have practiced geophysics as a profession for most of my career.
 Our research team conducts basic and applied research using seismic surveys, both onshore and offshore.

Our studies and experiences have solidified my belief that seismic surveys are a safe, sensible and responsible path toward informed decisions about our coastal and offshore environment.

Seismic surveys are not new to the Atlantic. In fact, the mouth of Chesapeake Bay was the very birthplace of marine seismic surveying in the late 1930s. These pioneering studies led to fundamental advances in Earth sciences: the birth of plate tectonics in the 1960s.

Extensive seismic surveys were conducted in the Atlantic offshore from the late 1960s through the late 1980s, and were preceded by extensive environmental-impact studies by the federal government, much as they are today. Since then, seismic surveying technology has evolved dramatically.

While the current focus is on evaluation of energy-resource potential, marine seismic surveys are critical for numerous other applications. Our seismic-based research includes assessment of offshore areas of South Carolina for development of wind energy installations, as well as evaluation of the continental shelf for geologic storage of carbon dioxide — projects funded through the federal government.

We are gaining new insight into the previously unrecognized potential for earthquakes offshore South Carolina based on the images provided through these legacy seismic surveys, and we recently published results documenting that much of South Carolina used to be a part of Africa.

Likewise, beach restoration projects, which generate significant returns on investment through tourism, ecological preservation and hurricane protection, use seismic and geological surveys to help assess the offshore sand and gravel used for restoration.

I took this message to Congress this summer, when I testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. The numerous applications of seismic and geophysical surveys, as well as their nearly daily use in offshore energy exploration and development in the Gulf of Mexico, emphasize something else I told the Energy and Minerals Subcommittee: There has been zero credible documented evidence that seismic surveys have resulted in long-term adverse impacts to marine life.

I have lived in South Carolina for nearly 20 years, am raising a family here and know that our beaches and our ocean life are irreplaceable. From the white sand beaches to the abundance of wildlife and marine life to the breathtaking sunrises, our beaches are embedded in our state’s DNA. Claims that seismic surveys jeopardize any of this are verifiably false. Simply put, seismic surveying can and does coexist successfully with fishing, tourism and marine life around the globe.

Dr. Knapp is a professor in USC’s School of the Earth, Ocean and Environment; contact him at