Coastal voices go unheeded as Trump administration approves seismic blasting permits

The sight of a North American right whale with her calf is increasingly rare; none were spotted this year.  (© NOAA)

Ignoring the resolutions of more than 200 Atlantic Coast communities and the wishes of some of his biggest political supporters, President Donald Trump moved closer this week to exposing the Atlantic Ocean and Southeast coastal communities to the threat of oil drilling.

His administration approved permits for seismic blasting, a practice that uses loud and disruptive air gun discharges to search for undersea oil and gas. The blasts can hurt, disorient, deafen—and even kill—endangered whales and other marine animals.

The issuance of these permits is a signal that President Trump appears poised to move forward at all costs with his oil-seeking plans. Atlantic oil drilling is opposed by virtually every coastal community, all Southeast governors, and a bipartisan bloc of coastal lawmakers.

Permitting seismic blasting in the South Atlantic is completely out of touch with Southeast communities, business leaders, and elected officials who have consistently and overwhelmingly rejected offshore drilling and the seismic blasting that precedes it,” said Senior Attorney Catherine Wannamaker. “Seismic surveys not only pave the way for offshore drilling that no one wants here, but they also endanger whales, dolphins, and fisheries, and threaten coastal economies. Communities up and down the coast have made clear they do not support seismic blasting in the Atlantic, and they will continue to fight the Trump administration turning its back on them.”

The move turns aside the pleas of some of the President’s closest allies, including South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican and early Trump supporter. McMaster has asked that South Carolina be excluded from the administration’s drilling plans.

It also comes at a time when opposition to oil drilling and seismic testing shaped races for coastal districts in the House of Representatives, playing a key role in contests throughout the region. Those races focused on the importance of a vibrant coastal economy and its reliance on clear water and clean beaches. Coastal business leaders have decried seismic blasting as an intrusive and unnecessary harm to the ocean because it is a precursor to something they don’t want.

Seismic blasting could spell the end for the highly endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The right whale is at the brink of extinction following the confirmed deaths of 20 whales during 2017 and 2018, an unprecedented loss the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association has deemed a “crisis” for the species. There were no known births this year.  

The air gun blasts are also disruptive to coastal fisheries, a significant economic driver for Mid-Atlantic states. The concussions have been known to travel more than a thousand miles through the ocean, and studies have shown that seismic blasting can be responsible for decreasing catch rates by as much as 80 percent.

It’s just mind-boggling that President Trump is willing to not only ignore the formal requests of hundreds of coastal communities, but also to brush off so many of his supporters throughout the South,” said Nat Mund, SELC’s director of federal affairs. “The President is saying that staying cozy with the oil industry is more important to him than protecting these coastal communities, their jobs, and their economies.”

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