Environmental groups sue to block Atlantic air gun blasting permits

Published on
December 12, 2018

Nine environmental organizations filed suit against the federal government on Tuesday, 11 December, in an attempt to block seismic air gun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in South Carolina, comes less than two weeks after NOAA Fisheries approved permits for five companies to use air guns as part of a surveying process that could lead to offshore oil and gas drilling. The permits allow their use between Cape May, New Jersey, and Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The lawsuit comes after a number of business and environmental groups objected to the permits, fearing the air guns would harm commercial and recreational fisheries. 

The plaintiffs claim the government violated the Marine Mammal Protection and Endangered Species acts and seek to rescind the permits NOAA Fisheries allowed.

The suit states the air guns will be harmful to marine wildlife. In particular, since sound travels easier underwater, the use of air guns could hinder whales, dolphins, and other wildlife, who use sound as part of their daily life. Any disruption of that could injure or kill wildlife, they said

“This action is unlawful and we’re going to stop it,” Oceana Campaign Director Diane Hoskins said. “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 air gun blasting can harm everything from tiny zooplankton and fish to dolphins and whales. More than 90 percent of the coastal municipalities in the blast zone have publicly opposed seismic air gun blasting off their coast. We won this fight before and we’ll win it again.”

Among the wildlife most at risk are North American right whales, whose stock environmentalists claim is down to about 400. The air guns will be used in areas where the whales migrate and give birth.

“The Trump administration is letting the oil industry launch a brutal sonic assault on North Atlantic right whales and other marine life,” said Kristen Monsell, ocean program legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Right whales will keep spiraling toward extinction if we don’t stop these deafening blasts and the drilling and spilling that could come next. That’s why we’re taking the administration to court.”

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

Photo courtesy of Ocean Conservation Research

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