Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh announced Wednesday that a coalition of nine states that joined a federal lawsuit to prevent underwater seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean is asking a judge to freeze the practice while the case proceeds.
The states in December joined a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in South Carolina by environmental groups seeking to reverse the authority that the National Marine Fisheries Service gave to five companies to conduct “seismic airgun surveys for oil and gas in coastal water” off the Atlantic Coast.
Now, the attorneys general are also supporting the request to halt that authorization as the case continues.
“The five authorizations allow nearly 850 combined days of around-the-clock activity, amounting to more than five million total seismic airgun blasts,” the original lawsuit states. “The authorized surveys will injure and disturb whales and dolphins hundreds of thousands of times, including critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.”
Frosh and the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Virginia argued in the motion filed Tuesday that halting the tests is in the “public interest” because they could disrupt a “coastal ecosystem on which 1.4 million commercial fishing, tourism and recreation jobs depend.”
Frosh and other attorneys general had urged the national fisheries agency in 2017 to deny the applications by the companies to conduct testing that the federal government says will cause 373,000 instances of “incidental harassment.”
The agency authorized the tests in November 2018, a decision that the environmental groups and attorneys general say violates federal laws protecting endangered species and the environment.
“While the administration continues to place the interests of the fossil fuel industry ahead of our precious natural resources, attorneys general up and down the Atlantic coast will continue to fight these and other efforts to open the waters off our shores to drilling for oil and gas,” Frosh said in a statement.
The lawsuit seeking to undo the authorizations was filed in December by several environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, Oceana and state organizations.
“The ocean is an acoustic world. Sound travels far more efficiently underwater than through the air,” the lawsuit states. “Whales, dolphins, and other marine species depend on sound to find mates, forage, avoid predators, navigate, and communicate — in short, for virtually every vital life function.”