Environmental Groups Seek Court Order to Block Seismic Surveys in Atlantic

Feb 27, 2019

A group of conservation organizations have asked a federal judge to block the start of seismic exploration in the Atlantic Ocean, a precursor to offshore drilling, until the case can be fully heard in court.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the motion for a preliminary injunction filed in federal court in Charleston, S.C., contends that the Trump administration’s seismic survey go-ahead violates three federal laws: the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

On Nov. 30, 2018, five companies were authorized to bid for the right to conduct geological and geophysical seismic studies off the East Coast. In expectation of the effect of the seismic pulses on marine life, the National Marine Fisheries Services issued Incidental Harassment Authorizations for the project.

At the time, local nonprofit Alliance for a Living Ocean noted that the acoustic pulses from the seismic airguns could potentially harm more than 30 marine species, and offshore drilling could be disastrous.

As ALO Vice President Lisa Braunwell explained, “Our area has nothing to gain economically, and everything to lose, since the blasting and drilling would be conducted in the Mid-Atlantic, offshore, from Delaware to Florida.” Braunwell cited concern for marine life, but emphasized, “By far, however, the most serious threat to our water quality is posed by a catastrophic oil spill.”

In regard to the recent litigation, Steve Mashuda, an Earthjustice attorney representing Sierra Club and Surfrider, stated, “Allowing oil and gas companies to proceed with the activity we are challenging while the case is heard is like letting a city build a highway through a community while that community is trying to stop the construction in court. Once the damage is done, it’s done.”

The filing – case number is 18-3326 in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, assigned to Judge Richard Gergel – asserts that the federal government “failed to consider the combined effects of overlapping and simultaneous surveys, which are greater than the effects of individual seismic-blasting boats,” and, in addition, “erroneously determined that only a ‘small number’ of whales and dolphins would be harmed.”

“We will fight to prevent this damaging first step to offshore drilling at every turn, and this preliminary injunction motion is intended to stop the destructive activity before it starts,” said Surfrider’s legal director, Angela Howe. “Together, we will continue to stand up to protect our marine environment and our ocean ecosystems for this and future generations.”

NRDC, Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Oceana, One Hundred Miles, South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and North Carolina Coastal Federation are bringing the case. The Southern Environmental Law Center is representing South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, Defenders of Wildlife, North Carolina Coastal Federation and One Hundred Miles. Earthjustice is representing Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation.

Juliet Kaszas-Hoch


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