Sierra Club Files Lawsuit to Stop Movement Toward Offshore Drilling in Atlantic

Alliance for a Living Ocean Expresses Opposition to Trump Administration’s Seismic OK

The New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club has filed a lawsuit, alongside other Sierra Club chapters and additional conservation groups, in an effort to stop the Trump Administration from allowing seismic surveys in the Atlantic Ocean, a step toward offshore oil and gas drilling.

The lawsuit claims that offering leases for seismic analyses violates the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits harassing or killing whales, dolphins and other sea life.

“We are going to court to block Trump from selling off our coast to big oil,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the N.J. Sierra Club. “Donald Trump doesn’t care if there is a major oil spill off that will impact our fisheries and tourism industry. He is willing to sacrifice our coast and environment for the sake of Big Oil. That is why we will fight and keep on fighting to protect our coasts and its marine life.”

On Nov. 30, five companies were authorized to bid for the right to conduct geological and geophysical seismic surveys. In expectation of the effect of the seismic pulses on marine life, the National Marine Fisheries Services issued incidental harassment authorizations for the project.

Here on Long Beach Island, nonprofit Alliance for a Living Ocean said it stands with “the coalition of environmental groups opposing the plan to perform seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean. The purpose of seismic testing is to find new pockets of oil and natural gas, prior to exploratory offshore drilling.”

The acoustic pulses from the seismic airguns, said ALO, could potentially harm more than 30 marine species, and offshore drilling could be disastrous. “Our coastal economy depends on a clean and beautiful coastline to support tourism and fishing industries,” the group noted. “By releasing these permits, the federal government is in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.”

As ALO Vice President Lisa Braunwell pointed out, “Our area has nothing to gain economically, and everything to lose, since the blasting and drilling would be conducted in the Mid-Atlantic, offshore, from Delaware to Florida.”

Braunwell cited concern for marine life, but emphasized, “By far, however, the most serious threat to our water quality is posed by a catastrophic oil spill. It is important to remember that the the worst offshore environmental catastrophe occurred in 2010 as a result of as exploration project: the Deepwater Horizon.

“Eight years after the disaster, which killed 11 workers and spilled more than three million barrels of fuel, the environmental impacts are still felt in the water and on beaches from Texas to Florida, with fresh tar balls washing up whenever rough seas churn them up from the depths of the ocean floor. Unexplained dolphin deaths, dying oyster reefs, and lost bird nesting sites are reminders of the disaster.”

She added, “If this is not the future that we want for New Jersey, please ask your members of Congress to oppose seismic blasting and offshore drilling, and support those who have already spoken out.”

A number of politicians have, in fact, joined environmental groups in expressing outrage about the planned seismic studies. U.S. Congressmen Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2nd), Frank Pallone (NJ-6th), Don Beyer (Va.-8th) and John Rutherford (Fla.-4th) authored a bipartisan letter, signed by 93 members of the House of Representatives, voicing their disagreement the administration’s plans.

In their letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the legislators urged the Department of the Interior to deny the seismic survey permits, both for the sake of the marine mammals and because offshore drilling “puts at risk coastal economies based on fishing, tourism and recreation.”

As the lawmakers also noted, “We hear from countless business owners, elected officials and residents along our coasts who recognize and reject the risks of offshore oil and gas development. More than 220 local municipalities have passed formal resolutions opposing oil and gas exploration and/or drilling in the Atlantic or Eastern Gulf. These include numerous local chambers of commerce, tourism and restaurant associations, commercial and recreational fishing associations, and the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils.”

LoBiondo also joined a recent letter spearheaded by U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, and Pallone, also condemning the Trump administration’s decision to move forward with allowing seismic surveys for the specific purpose of oil and gas exploration.

According to the Sierra Club, South Carolina Environmental Law Project also plans to sue the government on behalf of South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, North Carolina Coastal Federation, One Hundred Miles and Defenders of Wildlife. Other groups participating in the lawsuit include Oceana; Earthjustice, on behalf of Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club; the Center for Biological Diversity and 16 municipalities in South Carolina.

“Seismic testing is the first step towards drilling off of the Atlantic Coast and we are here to fight that,” said Tittel. “We are going to court to do the job the federal government is supposed to be doing to protect our marine species.”

— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

Reposted from The Sandpaper