Saying the underwater blasts will needlessly kill and harm marine life, attorneys general in nine states from Maine to North Carolina joined a lawsuit Thursday to stop the Trump administration from allowing offshore oil drilling companies to conduct seismic air gun blasting along the U.S. Atlantic coast.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is notably absent from the legal action, even though one of Earth’s rarest creatures, the North American right whale, has its only known breeding ground off Cape Canaveral. Only about 400 right whales remain, with just 100 breeding females. For the first time since scientists have been recording, not a single calf was born last year.
Bondi’s office did not return a request for comment. Bondi is leaving office Jan. 8, and newly elected Republican Ashley Moody is taking over.
As the Phoenix reported, studies around the world reveal that air gun blasts can kill scallops and other shellfish, make sea turtles erratic, wipe out whales’ ability to find mates, vocalize and navigate, and wreck the organs that help sea life keep their balance in shifting currents. Giant squid who live deep in the sea have washed up dead in air gun blasting zones with damage to their sensory systems. Not only that, the blasting harms commercial fishing: one study showed 40-80 percent reduced catch rates in Atlantic cod, haddock, rockfish, herring, sand eel and blue whiting.
The National Marine Fisheries Service issued official Incidental Harassment Authorizations in late November, which allow the private companies to harm or kill marine life with the underwater blasting – a precursor to offshore oil drilling. The Obama administration previously denied permits for companies to conduct the air gun blasting, saying the benefit did not outweigh the cost to marine life. The Trump administration reversed that position.
The federal government estimates that the blasting will cause more than 373,000 instances of harm to marine mammals, according to a press release from Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh.
Frosh is leading a coalition that includes Connecticut Attorney General George Jepson, Delaware Attorney General Matthew Denn, Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood, North Carolina Attorney General Joshua Stein, and Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring.
The attorneys general are joining a suit filed by the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council, North Carolina Coastal Federation, Oceana, One Hundred Miles, Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation. More on that legal action here.
“Seismic testing will have dangerous consequences for hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, including endangered species,” said Maryland Attorney General Frosh. “While the administration continues to place the interests of the fossil fuel industry ahead of our precious natural resources, attorneys general up and down the Atlantic coast will continue to fight these and other efforts to open the waters off our shores to drilling for oil and gas.”
Granting the permits for blasting, the attorneys general argue, is “contrary to numerous scientific studies documenting the dangers acoustic devices pose to marine wildlife.”
The blasts are as loud as jet engines, and they go off about every 10 seconds for days, weeks or months. Underwater, they can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source, the nonprofit Oceana reports – the distance of a flight from New York to Los Angeles. The blasts can indicate the presence of oil, but the companies still have to put in exploratory rigs – like the BP Deepwater Horizon that blew up and slimed the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
“Today’s announcement sends a clear message to President Trump that coastal states are united against harmful seismic air gun blasting for offshore drilling.” Said Diane Hoskins, a campaign director with the nonprofit research group Oceana. These 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 air gun blasting in the Atlantic defies law, science and common sense.”