Editor's note: This originally ran as a letter to The State editorial board on Dec. 14. Ben Gregg is executive director of the S.C. Wildlife Federation in Columbia.
COLUMBIA - As the federal government considers giving permits for oil and gas …
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COLUMBIA - As the federal government considers giving permits for oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic off the coast of South Carolina, the petroleum industry and its surrogates are working hard to convince the public that seismic testing will not harm whales, dolphins, fish and all other marine animals.
Seismic testing uses powerful underwater airgun blasts, the equivalent to igniting multiple sticks of dynamite every 10-12 seconds. These sounds, the loudest in the ocean, extend underwater for hundreds of miles. Permit applications indicate that five companies would be conducting such surveys off our coast continuously for periods of up to a year to gather images of potential deposits of oil and gas to drill.
One of this state's chief petroleum industry mouthpieces is James Knapp, a University of South Carolina professor who once worked for the petroleum industry ("Seismic surveys wouldn't endanger SC marine life," Dec. 11). He is not a marine biologist and obviously not a consumer of the vast amount of expert research showing that he is wrong about the safety of seismic testing.
Marine biologists have determined almost unanimously that seismic testing will seriously impact the lives of marine mammals and a host of other animals and further jeopardize the continued existence of the right whale already bordering on extinction.
The scientific literature is replete with studies published in respected scientific journals documenting seismic-airgun-adverse impacts on marine life including invertebrates, sea turtles, recreational and commercial fish and marine mammals. Recent research also shows that seismic testing has devastating effects on zooplankton, a critical link in the marine food web and the primary food for the North Atlantic right whale. This could spell doom for the critically endangered right whale, which is down to only a few hundred individuals.
So how can a university professor promote a position that is clearly refuted by experts in the field?
Last year, the online news site The Nerve tried to answer that question, but Dr. Knapp was not forthcoming. We do know that he and his wife are both USC professors and former employees of two of the largest oil and gas companies in the world. Mrs. Knapp is the director of an institute associated with the university that receives undisclosed sums from the oil and gas industry. And according to the 2016 Nerve report, they maintain their own for-profit consulting business that could tie them financially to oil exploration and the energy industry.
If Dr. Knapp has any financial conflicts of interest, he should disclose them. But whether he has conflicts or not, he lacks the professional qualifications to speak about marine, biological or ecological effects from seismic exploration.
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