The High Cost of Underwater Seismic Airguns

Imagine an underwater blast so loud that it can be heard by marine mammals within 2,500 miles — the equivalent distance from New York City to Mexico City. This is the level of noise generated when companies fire airguns to blast the ocean floor with sound in order to find oil and gas deposits.

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Seismic testing of the Atlantic Ocean seabed could soon begin, in the wake of the Trump administration ordering federal agencies to reconsider the five-year ban on offshore drilling.

Flooding the ocean with noise from seismic surveys could inflict permanent hearing damage on marine mammals such as whales and dolphins, which rely heavily on sound to communicate, navigate and find prey.

An Earthjustice lawsuit resulted in a court-ordered settlement that revealed the oil and gas industry conducted seismic surveys for decades without the permits required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. Earthjustice attorneys represented NRDC, the Center for Biological Diversity, Gulf Restoration Network, and Sierra Club.

On Dec. 11, 2018, Earthjustice — alongside leading environmental groups — sued the federal government to prevent seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean. The lawsuit, filed in South Carolina, claims that the National Marine Fisheries Service 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.

Earthjustice attorneys continue to defend our oceans — because oceans need good lawyers too.