SELC sues to stop seismic blasting in the Atlantic

Lawsuit claims the Trump administration permits violate several laws

State Senator Marlon Kimpson address the broad coalition gathered outside the federal courthouse in Charleston to announce their suit challenging permits recently issued to allow seismic blasting, a precursor to offshore drilling.  (© Mike Mather/SELC)

Southern Environmental Law Center attorneys today joined a coalition of conservation groups in filing a lawsuit to stop the Trump administration from allowing companies to conduct seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean.

Several South Carolina elected leaders and business owners joined SELC at a news conference at the federal courthouse in Charleston to voice their continued opposition to any efforts to open the coast to seismic blasting and oil drilling.

The lawsuit maintains that the Trump administration’s approval of “Incidental Harassment Authorizations,” which allow surveying companies to harm dolphins, whales and other sea animals, violate the law. The suit claims these permits violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Protection Act.

Scientists believe the seismic blasting will be particularly hard on the critically endangered right whale.

Seismic surveying – where ships fire loud and repeated airgun blasts into the ocean and study the echoes – is what oil companies use to plan drilling.

Those blasts can be harmful to whales and dolphins that use sound to communicate and navigate. And since more than 200 East Coast towns, cities and counties have passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling, seismic blasting will mean ocean animals suffer harm for an outcome virtually no coastal communities support.

Ignoring the mounting opposition to offshore drilling, the decision to push forward with unnecessarily harmful seismic testing defies the law, let alone common sense,” said Catherine Wannamaker, a senior SELC attorney. “An overwhelming number of communities, businesses, and elected officials have made it clear that seismic blasting–a precursor to drilling that no one wants–has no place off our coasts.”

Attorneys general in several states have indicated they could intervene in this lawsuit to protect their states’ waters from seismic blasting. A coalition of South Carolina mayors and businesses later filed a separate lawsuit.

South Carolina has spoken: We don’t want offshore oil and gas drilling,” said Laura Cantral, executive director at South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, one of the organizations SELC is representing. “Seismic blasting is a big step in that direction, threatening our fragile coast and economy. We will firmly defend our communities and vulnerable marine life.”

In addition to SELC, the coalition that filed the lawsuit includes Oceana, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, the North Carolina Coastal Federation, One Hundred Miles, Sierra Club, and the Surfrider Foundation.

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