Environmental Groups Sue Feds To Stop Seismic Airgun Blasting In The Atlantic Which Jeopardizes Critically Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales

Leading environmental groups sued the federal government last week to prevent seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean. This extremely loud and dangerous process, which is used to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean’s surface, is the first step toward offshore drilling. If allowed, seismic airgun blasting would harm marine life, including whales, dolphins, fish and zooplankton – the foundation of the ocean food web.

The lawsuit, filed in South Carolina, claims that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, The Endangered Species Act, and The National Environmental Policy Act, when it issued Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) in late November. Those permits authorize five companies to harm or harass marine mammals while conducting seismic airgun blasting in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Cape May, New Jersey, to Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The government has estimated that seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic could harass or harm marine mammals like dolphins and whales – which depend on sound to feed, mate and communicate. Seismic airgun blasting would also jeopardize the iconic North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species, according to 28 leading right whale experts.

“This action is unlawful and we’re going to stop it,” said Diane Hoskins, Campaign Director at Oceana in a statement. “The Trump administration’s rash decision to harm marine mammals hundreds of thousands of times in the hope of finding oil and gas is shortsighted and dangerous. Seismic airgun blasting can harm everything from tiny zooplankton and fish, to dolphins and whales. More than 90% of the coastal municipalities in the blast zone have publicly opposed seismic airgun blasting off their coast. We won this fight before and we’ll win it again.”

“The Trump administration has steamrolled over objections of scientists, governors, and thousands of coastal communities and businesses to enable this dangerous activity. Now it wants to steamroll the law,” said Michael Jasny, Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Allowing seismic blasting at this scale in these waters is not consistent with the laws that protect our oceans.”

As of today, opposition and concern over offshore drilling activities in the Atlantic includes:

  • Governors of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire

  • More than 240 East Coast state municipalities

  • Over 1,500 local, state and federal bipartisan officials

  • An alliance representing over 42,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families

  • All three East Coast Fishery Management Councils

  • Commercial and recreational fishing interests such as: Southeastern Fisheries Association, Snook and Gamefish Foundation, Fisheries Survival Fund, Southern Shrimp Alliance, Billfish Foundation and International Game Fish Association

Background

In April 2017, President Trump issued an executive order to expedite permitting for harmful seismic airgun blasting, reversing the previous administration’s decision to deny all pending permits for such activity in the Atlantic.

The Obama administration concluded that the “value of obtaining the geophysical and geological information from new airgun seismic surveys in the Atlantic, does not outweigh the potential risks of those surveys’ acoustic pulse impacts on marine life.”

NMFS issued permits to five companies on November 30, 2018. Before those companies can begin seismic airgun blasting, they must also receive permits from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

A recent economic analysis by Oceana finds that offshore drilling activities, including seismic airgun blasting, along the Atlantic, threaten over 1.5 million jobs and nearly $108 billion in GDP, and would yield less than seven months worth of oil, and less than six months worth of gas.

A May 2017 poll by Oceana, NRDC and The International Fund for Animal Welfare revealed that 76% of Americans support protecting marine mammals from threats, including injury and death resulting from offshore oil and gas drilling.

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