Groups seek court order blocking Atlantic seismic blasting

environment climate changeA group of conservation organizations today asked a federal judge to block the start of harmful seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean, a precursor to offshore drilling, until the case can be fully heard in court.

The motion for a preliminary injunction filed in federal court in Charleston contends, among other things, the Trump administration’s approval for five companies to harm ocean animals with seismic airgun blasting violates three federal laws — the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Separately, 16 South Carolina coastal communities and the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce also filed a lawsuit to prevent seismic blasting. That lawsuit has been merged with the one from the conservation groups. Ten East Coast attorneys general, including South Carolina’s Alan Wilson, have intervened in the combined lawsuits.

However, without today’s request from the conservation organizations, the blasting could begin before this case is fully resolved.

The filing asserts that:

  • Dolphins, whales and other animals could endure five million blasts as these companies seek offshore oil and gas deposits.
  • The blasts will happen approximately every 10 seconds for weeks or months at a time.
  • Seismic airguns create one of the loudest sources of noise in the oceans.
  • The government failed to consider the combined effects of overlapping and simultaneous surveys, which are greater than the effects of individual seismic-blasting boats.
  • The government erroneously determined that only a “small number” of whales and dolphins would be harmed.
  • Should it go forward, this blasting will irreparably harm marine species, from tiny zooplankton—the foundation of ocean life—to the great whales.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has authorized one company to harm more than 50,000 dolphins and another company to harm 20,000 more.

The filing also claims the blasts could irreparably harm the small population of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, a species on the verge of extinction. There are only about 400 right whales remaining in the Atlantic. Further, the filing shows that blasting ships would “concentrate their fire” on the world’s densest population of acoustically sensitive beaked whales off North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

The case number is 18-3326 in United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. It is assigned to Judge Richard Gergel.

The South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, North Carolina Coastal Federation, Oceana, One Hundred Miles, Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation 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.

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