Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Groups sue to prevent seismic airgun blasting off Georgia and South Carolina coast

Posted By on Tue, Dec 11, 2018 at 12:15 PM

click to enlarge A Right Whale mother and calf
  • A Right Whale mother and calf
A remarkable array of leading environmental groups sued the federal government today to prevent seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean.

This controversial process backed by the Trump administration is used to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean’s surface, and is a first step toward offshore drilling.

Seismic airgun blasting uses extremely loud and invasive sound waves which disrupt the activity and life cycles of marine life, including whales, dolphins, fish and zooplankton.

“With a vibrant commercial fishery industry and the only known calving ground for endangered North Atlantic right whales just off our coast, Georgians oppose seismic testing for offshore oil exploration and the threats it poses to our state’s wildlife, wild places, and quality of life,” said Alice Keyes, vice president at One Hundred Miles.

Keyes said all Savannah coastal delegates supported resolutions in the Georgia legislature opposing seismic testing, including State Sen. Lester Jackson, Rep. Ron Stephens, and Rep. Carl Gilliard.

Tybee Island Mayor Jason Buelterman also opposes seismic testing.

Keyes said the North Atlantic right whale — designated as Georgia's official state marine mammal — is particularly threatened.

Already critically endangered due to net entanglements and ship strikes, the whales might be at a crucial tipping point.

"Last year there were no documented births" of right whale calves, Keyes said.

“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.”

The lawsuit, filed in South Carolina, claims that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) in late November.

Those permits authorize five companies to harm or harass marine mammals while conducting seismic airgun blasting in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Cape May, New Jersey to Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Some estimates say the sound and concussion from the blasting can cover a maritime area equivalent to the distance between New York and Los Angeles.

The primary sponsor of the lawsuit is Oceana, the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation. Groups signing onto the lawsuit include Center for Biological Diversity, National Resources Defense Council, Southern Environmental Law Center (on behalf of South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, North Carolina Coastal Federation, One Hundred Miles, Defenders of Wildlife), and Earthjustice (on behalf of Surfrider Foundation and Sierra Club) .

At a press conference in downtown Charleston sponsored by the Coastal Conservation League, Congressman-Elect Joe Cunningham (D-Charleston) said "200 east coast towns, cities, and counties have passed resolutions opposing seismic airgun blasting. We the people of the Lowcountry strongly oppose offshore drilling and we strongly oppose seismic airgun blasting."

Cunningham said the first bill he will sponsor when he takes office next month will be a bill to reverse the Trump administration's backing of the policy.

"As a former ocean engineer I know how destructive offshore drilling can be," Cunningham said.

Keyes of One Hundred Miles urged concerned local citizens to contact Georgia Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, and Savannah area Congressman Buddy Carter to oppose seismic testing.

She said it's also important to call Georgia Governor-Elect Brian Kemp and "ask him to officially oppose seismic testing" in the wake of a campaign promise that he would oppose offshore drilling.

In April 2017, President Trump issued an executive order to expedite permitting for harmful seismic airgun blasting, reversing the previous administration’s decision to deny all pending permits for such activity in the Atlantic.

“The Trump administration has steamrolled over objections of scientists, governors and thousands of coastal communities and businesses to enable this dangerous activity. Now it wants to steamroll the law,” said Michael Jasny, director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Allowing seismic blasting at this scale in these waters is not consistent with the laws that protect our oceans.”
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