NRDC and Partners Sue to Protect Marine Life from Seismic Blasting

The harmful practice to search for fossil fuels puts marine creatures at risk, including critically endangered species.
Credit: iStock

The harmful practice to search for fossil fuels puts marine creatures at risk, including critically endangered species.

Leading conservation groups sued the National Marine Fisheries Service for its issuance of five new seismic blasting permits in an area twice the size of California, arguing that they violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. “Allowing seismic blasting at this scale in these waters is not consistent with the laws that protect our oceans,” says Michael Jasny, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at NRDC.

The permits, or Incidental Harassment Authorizations, will allow airgun blasting for one year in large undersea areas off the Atlantic coast, from Delaware to Florida, as a way to search for oil and gas deposits under the seafloor. The blasts are as loud as dynamite and fired every 10 seconds for weeks, sometimes months. A first step toward offshore drilling, the practice is known to disrupt the vital behaviors of marine life that rely on sound to find food, mate, avoid predators, and navigate—including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. It’s also known to injure and kill invertebrates, from krill to lobsters to scallops, displace fish, and put commercial fisheries at risk.

The fight against harmful seismic testing is years in the making. After multiple groups of scientists warned the Obama administration about its “significant, long-lasting, and widespread” impacts, the administration eventually agreed that airgun blasting in the Atlantic was too dangerous. But President Trump soon reversed course. He issued an executive order in April 2017 attempting to open up public coastal waters to offshore drilling, and his administration recently greenlighted the seismic testing that goes with it. 

More than 2,000 local, state, and federal officials, 300 municipalities, 42,000 businesses, and 500,000 fishing families have expressed opposition and concern over seismic blasting and offshore drilling in the Atlantic. “The Trump administration has steamrolled over objections of scientists, governors, and thousands of coastal communities and businesses to enable this dangerous activity,” Jasny says. “Now it wants to steamroll the law.”

The lawsuit was filed in South Carolina by NRDC, the Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana, the Southern Environmental Law Center (representing the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, Defenders of Wildlife, North Carolina Coastal Federation, and One Hundred Miles), and Earthjustice (representing the Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation).

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