A group of East Coast states is attempting to prevent oil and natural gas drilling off their coasts by suing to knock out the first step in the exploration process.
Nine states filed a lawsuit Thursday aimed at reversing federal approval for underwater seismic testing that involves blasting the sea bed with sound waves.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the idea is to prevent drilling from ever happening by blocking the first step in oil exploration — the sonic testing that looks for buried oil or gas deposits. Last month the National Marine Fisheries Service allowed five companies to conduct such testing, despite potential risks to marine life.
"The federal government's decision is flat-out wrong, and offshore drilling will harm our pristine coast and the residents and industries that rely on it," he said at a news conference in Belmar, one of the state's most popular beaches. "Now it is also clear the (Trump) administration is willing to harm over 300,000 marine mammals, even endangered species, in pursuit of its fossil fuel agenda."
New Jersey joins Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Virginia in their suit against sound testing. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the National Marine Fisheries Service are among the defendants. A spokesperson said the Commerce Department had no comment on the lawsuit.
"Approving these blasting tests paves the way for the Trump administration to open up the Atlantic coast to drilling and poses a severe threat to our coastal communities, our fishing industry, and the health of the ocean," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said. "We are suing to stop this reckless plan that allows the oil and gas industry to destroy fishing families, local businesses, and marine life."
Last week, New Bedford, Massachusetts, was named the nation's highest grossing fishing port for the 18th consecutive year, Mayor Jon Mitchell said.
"Our port now supports nearly 7,000 jobs and contributes $10 billion dollars to the Massachusetts economy," he said. "The Interior Department is placing all of this success at grave long-term risk. The effort to pursue a drilling program off the U.S. East Coast is ill-conceived and creates the possibility of an ecological disaster for the fisheries that the commercial fishing industry depends on for its viability."
New Jersey environmentalists — including one who is now the state's deputy environmental protection commissioner — vehemently fought seismic testing that took place off the coast of Barnegat Light in 2015, but were unable to stop it. The stated purpose of that research was to examine bottom sediment to give clues about sea level rise millions of years ago.
But it is the same technology that would be applied to oil and gas exploration, although on a vastly larger scale, said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action.
"Fishermen talked about how the fishing was terrible during and right after the testing was being done," she said. "And four dead whales were found in the area. There was no determination on how they died — let me emphasize that — but in my 30-plus years in the region, I've never heard of four dead whales that close together."
The International Association of Geophysical Contractors says the industry takes care to avoid marine life. It said in 2016 "there has been no observation of direct physical injury or death to free-ranging fishes caused by seismic survey activity. Any impacts to fish from seismic surveys are short-term, localized and have not led to significant impacts on a population scale."
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