Today, the Trump administration will authorize companies to injure, harass, disrupt or even kill marine mammals in the course of surveying the Atlantic Ocean seafloor to detect oil and gas reserves. These seismic airgun surveys, a precursor to offshore oil and gas drilling, will affect marine wildlife across 200,000 square miles of ocean waters, from Delaware to Florida.
The airguns used in these surveys emit continuous blasts, permeating the ocean environment with intense industrial noise, so loud that it can deafen whales, dolphins and other ocean creatures.
While destructive in their own right, the seismic tests are only a first step in the Trump administration’s broader plans for dramatic expansion of offshore drilling in the Atlantic and beyond. The Department of the Interior has proposed opening 90 percent of U.S. federal offshore waters to the fossil fuel industry, exposing nearly every coastline in the nation to the risk of an environmentally devastating oil spill and the degradation that comes with industrializing more of our rich ocean environments. Since the planning process for this offshore leasing expansion got underway, more than 1.45 million Americans have demonstrated intense opposition with rallies, marches and comments submitted to the Department of Interior agency responsible for crafting the plan.
Earthjustice, working on behalf of the Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club and in partnership with multiple conservation organizations, will use every tool available to prevent seismic airgun blasting and the harm it would cause.
“Seismic airgun surveys pose a dual threat to the biologically rich waters off the Atlantic coast,” said Steve Mashuda, Managing Attorney for Oceans at Earthjustice. “Their continuous blasts can injure and deafen whales, dolphins and other marine life, and they are the sonic harbingers of even greater risks associated with eventual offshore oil and gas drilling. We are looking at all available tools to fight this unlawful action.”
“As usual, the Trump administration is pulling out all the stops to give favors to the fossil fuel industry, whatever the cost to coastal communities and wildlife,” said Sierra Club Lands Protection program director Athan Manuel. “We will continue to fight back against their dangerous plans to subject our coasts to seismic blasting and expanded offshore drilling.”
“Seismic blasting is a violent, destructive precursor to unnecessary offshore oil drilling,” said Angela Howe, Surfrider Foundation Legal Director. “According to estimates from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the seismic exploration projects could directly harm tens of thousands of whales and dolphins, in addition to thousands of manatees, seals, and sea turtles. This type of damage to our coastal resources is unacceptable. The Surfrider Foundation and our strong coalition of allies will stand up to protect our ocean, waves and beaches for the future.”
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will issue today incidental harassment authorizations (IHAs) to five companies that plan to conduct seismic airgun surveys. If allowed to proceed, these IHAs would allow the fossil fuel industry contractors to “take” ocean wildlife under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, putting whales and dolphins at risk of injury or death. Whales and dolphins depend on hearing for basic life functions like communication, navigation, and finding prey. Seismic surveys can deafen whales or repeatedly interfere with their ability to feed, migrate, and raise their young, disrupting these essential behaviors hundreds of thousands of times.
The authorizations would allow this “take” to affect even those species federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. Contractors aim to conduct seismic surveys in ocean territories inhabited by critically endangered North Atlantic right whales and five other federally endangered whale species, among other marine life.