Seven conservation groups filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday to block potential seismic testing for offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.
Attorneys representing Oceana, Natural Resources Defense Council, Southern Environmental Law Center, Earthjustice, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation filed the suit Tuesday at the U.S. District Court in Charleston.
The suit is intended to block permits issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service to five companies which would clear them of any impact to marine wildlife by conducting seismic surveys via airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean. The blasting is done to test for offshore oil and gas deposits.
“We’re using the last tool in the toolbox on the seismic permits, which is file federal litigation,” senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center Catherine Wannamaker said.
The SELC and the six other groups have actively opposed offshore drilling since President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2017 that opened the door for offshore drilling off the eastern United States. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster opposes offshore drilling and has appealed to President Trump to exempt South Carolina from the executive order.
“We’ve been objecting to it with the administration and the governors have objected and the mayors have been objecting and politicians from both sides in South Carolina have been objecting but, unfortunately, the Trump administration hasn’t listened,” Wannamaker said.
The lawsuit claims the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued the permits last month. The permits allow testing to occur off the U.S. coast between Delaware and Florida.
“Those blasts are really harmful for a whole host of marine animals from the largest whale and the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale to beaked whales to dolphins to sea turtles to fisheries,” Wannamaker said. “We have a number of federal environmental statutes that are designed to protect those resources and we allege that the government is violating a few of those, namely the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.”
“We don’t think we should ever have offshore drilling here,” Wannamaker said. “We think our coast is too special and too pristine and it’s not something that anyone in the South Atlantic wants and if you’re never going to have offshore drilling, then there’s no reason to have these harmful seismic surveys.”
Newly-elected U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham attended the news conference announcing the lawsuit. Cunningham used his opposition to drilling as a key part of his campaign platform.
“South Carolina has spoken: We don’t want offshore oil and gas drilling,” Coastal Conservation League executive director Laura Cantral said. “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.”
The governors of every East Coast state from Florida to New Hampshire have expressed their opposition to offshore drilling. The idea has more support from inland lawmakers, who believe it could create new energy sector jobs and reduce dependency on foreign countries for oil.