Nine Blue States Join Fight Against Seismic Oil Testing

(CN) – Attorneys general from nine states sought Thursday to intervene in a federal lawsuit brought by environmentalists who say the Trump administration’s plans to conduct seismic testing for oil exploration in the Atlantic Ocean will cause irreversible harm to marine life.

Maryland and eight other Democratic-led states filed a motion to intervene on behalf of conservation groups in their case in Charleston federal court.  

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh is leading the coalition and made the announcement from the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which overlooks the Chesapeake Bay, just one example of a water body that Frosh said deserves protection from the Trump administration’s plans for offshore oil exploration.  

Last week, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and other environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit seeking to undo the National Marine Fisheries Service’s approval of permits to five companies who want to begin seismic surveys in the Atlantic. A group of coastal cities also filed a separate complaint for an injunction.

The surveys are conducted through the use of air guns that deploy loud blasts into the sea bed at 10-second intervals for 24 hours a day in hopes of eventually locating natural gas and oil pockets under the seafloor. 

The agency approved the permits, arguing the impact would be “negligible” to marine life. 

“But scientists have reviewed the effects of air guns on marine mammals and they compared the effect to having repeated blasts of dynamite in your living room every 10 seconds for months at time,” Frosh said. 

The blasts reach 160 decibels, he added, noting that even underwater, “it’s louder than a rock concert.” 

Frosh said Maryland decided to join the environmentalists’ lawsuit instead of launching its own because as “neighbors” who enjoy mutual access to the eastern seaboard, it seemed prudent to join an ongoing effort started by others.  

“These folks are our allies,” Frosh said.

The decision to issue permits allowing for what the National Marine Fisheries Service calls “incidental harassment” of marine life was short-sighted, the attorney general said, because 34 marine mammal species, including five endangered and threatened whale populations, will be directly and “catastrophically” impacted by seismic surveying. 

Whether it’s the boats towing air guns or the piercing sound waves, as purveyors look for oil, critical marine mammal mating, migratory and feeding patterns could be disrupted, Frosh said.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act specifically prohibits actions that can kill or injure whales, dolphins or porpoises but also allows for “incidental harassment” to occur occasionally.  

It is only meant, however, to be approved under extremely limited circumstances. 

Attorneys general from Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Virginia joined Maryland in the motion to intervene. 

Frosh told Courthouse News in an email Thursday that he doesn’t consider the case in South Carolina to be a “slam dunk” – no case is, he said – but he remains “optimistic” about a victory.  

 “This administration has time and again taken every opportunity to destroy our air, water and land. As attorneys general, we continue to use our collective resources to protect the citizens of our states,” Frosh said. 

Their effort isn’t going unnoticed. 

Diane Hoskins, campaign director for Oceana, a nonprofit ocean conservation and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., said in a statement that the attorneys general “are standing up for their states, their way of life and their coastal economies.”

“Putting our oceans, marine life and coastal economies at risk for dirty and dangerous offshore drilling is wrong and we are not backing down. Seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic defies law, science and common sense. They acted unlawfully and we’re going to stop it,” Hoskins said.

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