Seismic air gun testing will not occur off the mid-Atlantic coast anytime soon after legal obstacles forced five companies to concede their permits which are set to expire next month.
Oil and gas drilling companies use seismic air gun testing to find deposits of oil and natural gas below the ocean floor. High-powered air guns blast the ocean floor, and receivers trailing the watercraft measure the echoes. Many environmental groups have fought for years to prohibit such practices over concerns of the effects on marine life, particularly dolphins and whales.
In 2017, a presidential executive order allowed The National Marine Fisheries service to issue five Incidental Harassment Authorizations (or permits) that would allow air gun blasting after approval from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). Thanks to legal challenges, including one from a multi-state coalition led by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, the five companies never received BOEM approval. Last week, a federal court in South Carolina issued a conditional dismissal of the case ensuring the testing will not occur in the near future.
From the Attorney General’s press release:
Today’s court order makes clear that the companies will not engage in seismic testing prior to the IHAs’ November 30 expiration date, and that the IHAs cannot be renewed or extended beyond that date. Thus, the order explains, the IHAs’ expiration will render the lawsuit moot.
“Today’s court order means the Trump Administration’s plans to open the Atlantic Coast to seismic testing – a precursor to offshore drilling – is dead in the water. Time and time again, this Administration has placed the interests of the fossil fuel industry ahead of our precious natural resources. We witnessed the massive damage to wildlife, the fishing industry, and to people following oil spill disasters in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world. We must move forward to develop clean, safe, and environmentally-friendly energy sources. If this administration attempts to move forward again, we will return to court to protect the health of the Chesapeake Bay and our vulnerable Atlantic Coast shoreline.”
Coverage in Maryland Coast Dispatch