Environmental groups seek injunction on air gun blasting until lawsuit decided

Published on
February 20, 2019

Eight environmental firms filed for an injunction against the federal government on Wednesday, 20 February, in an attempt to block five companies from conducting seismic air gun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean until a lawsuit on the matter can be settled.

The request comes as the federal government could issue permits for the blasting as soon as 1 March, after NOAA announced in December that five permits could be issued for blasting in the Atlantic Ocean. That would enable companies to begin work, as part of a survey for potential oil and gas drilling, by the end of March. 

Last December, the groups filed the lawsuit in a South Carolina federal court seeking to stop the blasting in an area ranging from New Jersey to central Florida. A month later, 16 South Carolina coastal cities, a chamber of commerce and the state’s attorney general filed their own lawsuit to block the permits, claiming the blasting could “destroy coastal fishing industries” in the state. 

The two cases have since been combined.

In Wednesday’s filing, lawyers for the environmental groups said they could not reach an agreement that would keep the blasting from starting while the lawsuit worked its way through the court system.

“The harm Plaintiffs seek to prevent will begin as soon as seismic blasting does,” the document stated.

The environmental groups claim the air gun blasts would cause harm to a wide array of marine species, including the North Atlantic right whale, of which there are about 400 remaining in the Atlantic Ocean. The groups also are concerned the work could impact zooplankton, an important food source for marine life in the region.

“The North Carolina Coastal Federation is concerned that the continuous and cumulative airgun blasting associated with seismic testing surveys will negatively impact marine mammals, commercially and recreationally important fisheries, and dramatically decrease the abundance of zooplankton, which is a key organism in the marine food web and a main source of food for fish and baleen whales," said Michael Flynn, a coastal advocate for the NCCF, in a release.

Other plaintiffs in the case include the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, One Hundred Miles, the Sierra Club, and the Surfrider Foundation.

“This important issue deserves a fair day in court,” said Diane Hoskins, an Oceana campaign director, in a statement. “We can’t let this dangerous activity cause a species to go extinct just so the oil industry can open our oceans to offshore drilling. Up and down the Atlantic coast, businesses, communities and bipartisan elected officials are overwhelmingly opposed to seismic airgun blasting. Every east coast governor and over 90 percent of coastal municipalities in the blast zone are opposed to opening our coast to drilling – this is states versus President Trump.”

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