Nine Coastal States Join Lawsuit to Ban Offshore Air Gun Blasts Okayed by Trump

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The war against offshore drilling continues to pit basically the entire U.S. against the Trump administration and its plan to open vast swaths of the ocean to fossil fuel interests. On Thursday, nine attorneys general from coastal states joined the opposition by signing onto a lawsuit looking to invalidate seismic testing permits.

The suit was filed by environmental groups in federal court last week and argues that five companies that recently received permits from the Trump administration are illegal under a number of federal acts, including the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act, over the use of what’s known as seismic air guns. In order to determine if there’s oil in them there ocean tracts, companies will trawl the ocean and blast compressed air underwater. How that air interacts with the ocean bottom and rock beneath can provide a pretty good idea if there are oil and gas deposits to tap.

The blasts are also incredibly disruptive, and can stress out and kill everything from huge whales to tiny zooplankton (to say nothing of the climate impacts of burning whatever comes out of the ground). The suit itself specifically calls out impacts more testing could have on a number of species, including the endangered North Atlantic right whales that migrate and breed in or around the area covered by the permits. Listen to sound of a blast and you may see why these air guns are likened to air canons.


The environmental groups that have sued argue these permits were issued without companies doing their due diligence around impacts. And now the weight of nine attorneys general offices will be backing them up. The chief lawyers of Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina asked to join the suit and file a complaint on behalf of the states the represent.

“The Trump administration has repeatedly put special interests before our environment and our communities,” New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement. “The science is clear: seismic testing would harm marine species, jeopardize our coastal ecosystems—and move us another step closer to offshore drilling, which poses a critical threat to New Yorkers’ lives, jobs, and natural resources.”

Since the Trump administration announced its intent to open basically all U.S. waters to oil and gas exploration earlier this year, opposition has grown to include Republican and Democrat governors, preachers, new members of Congress, and the aforementioned environmental groups. It’s not like fossil fuel companies have been bullish on the policy either, with recent lease auctions the administration has conducted seeing less than stellar returns. Now the attorneys general could throw up yet another roadblock.