Coastal States join in Lawsuit Against Seismic Testing in the Atlantic Ocean
Mass AG Healey Sues to Protect Fishing Families, Businesses and Wildlife From Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration Tests.
BOSTON, MA — Attorney General Maura Healey 12.20.2018 joined a multistate lawsuit against U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to put an end to a plan that allows harmful seismic testing for offshore oil and gas resources in the Atlantic Ocean.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, joins a challenge by environmental groups last week against Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) recently issued by NMFS that permit five private companies to harm marine wildlife in connection with seismic testing for offshore oil and gas exploration in the Mid- and South-Atlantic Ocean. Today’s action is continuation of AG Healey’s longstanding opposition to the Trump Administration’s plan to open up nearly all currently restricted ocean areas —including federal waters off the Massachusetts coast—to oil and gas drilling.
AG Healey announced the multistate lawsuit at the New England Aquarium alongside aquarium officials, fishing industry representatives, business community leaders, and environmental advocates.
“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,” said AG Healey. “Today we are suing to stop this reckless plan that allows the oil and gas industry to destroy fishing families, local businesses, and marine life.”
“As the nation’s aquariums, it’s our duty to speak up in defense of our oceans,” said Vikki Spruill, President & CEO of the New England Aquarium. “Now is not the time to move backwards. We strongly oppose the administration’s actions along the Atlantic seaboard. We stand with the 300 municipalities and 2,000 local officials who have formally opposed offshore drilling and seismic exploration.”
“Just last week New Bedford was named the nation’s highest grossing fishing port for the 18th consecutive year, and that lead is growing,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell. “The numbers speak for themselves: Our port now supports nearly 7,000 jobs and contributes $10 billion dollars to the Massachusetts economy. 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.”
“Sadly, we know the devastating impacts of oil spills on fishing communities,” said J.J. Bartlett, President of the Fishing Partnership Support Services. “Spikes in divorce, depression, anxiety, and PTSD were evident for years after the disasters in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. We cannot afford to risk the tens of thousands of local jobs created by the multi-billion-dollar Massachusetts seafood industry. And, we most certainly cannot risk destroying the families who feed us.”
“The Trump Administration’s backward-looking energy policy put the fragile environment of Cape Cod at risk and poses a real threat to life as we know it,” said Andrew Gottlieb, Executive Director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod. “Opening the Atlantic to oil and gas exploration does nothing but enrich the oil companies at the expense of the residents of Cape Cod and coastal communities from Maine to Florida.”
“We are very disappointed to learn that the Trump Administration has taken steps to allow seismic air gun blasting in the Atlantic,” said Angela Sanfilippo, President of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association. “Fishermen have made great sacrifices to protect fish stocks and here we go with something that will harm the marine habitat and the marine environment. We as fish people know that these activities are harmful to fish, marine mammals and humans.”
“The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce stands strongly in favor of the action by the Massachusetts Attorney General on behalf of the Commonwealth to halt any permitting that would open areas on the Outer Continental Shelf off the U.S. North Atlantic coast to oil and gas exploration or production,” said Wendy Northcross, Chief Executive Officer of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. “The threat represented by oil and gas exploration and extraction near our coastline is real. We support Massachusetts’ action to block the Trump Administration and Department of Interior efforts to drill in the North Atlantic and promise to work to advance the significant renewable energy initiatives currently underway that will power for a sustainable future.”
The attorneys general state in their complaint that the issuance of IHAs for the five seismic testing companies—Spectrum Geo Inc., TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company, ION GeoVentures, WesternGeco, LLC, and CCG—is illegal, not based on scientific evidence, and an abuse of NMFS’s discretion.
The lawsuit alleges violations of environmental laws and argues that the use of seismic air guns has the potential to harm more than 300,000 marine mammals. Endangered and threatened species such as the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, could be harmed by NMFS’s decision to allow sound blasts louder than 160 decibels to survey the ocean floor for oil and gas.
AG Healey first announced her opposition to the plan in an August 2017 letter to BOEM with the support of the Northeast Seafood Coalition and the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association.
In February, AG Healey joined a coalition of 12 attorneys general in sending a letter to former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke highlighting their united effort to stop the plan that threatens more than three million jobs across the country. In March, AG Healey’s Office filed extensive comments opposing the plan in March 2018. AG Healey’s Office also joined with five other attorneys general in sending a letter to the Department in late January raising strong concerns with its plan to roll back regulations designed to reduce environmental and safety risks associated with offshore drilling following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.
More than 41,000 businesses and 500,000 commercial fishing families along the Atlantic coast oppose offshore oil and gas drilling because of the harm it poses to the coastal ecosystems and economies.
Opening up any currently restricted offshore areas in the Atlantic to exploration or drilling would also harm the state’s protected endangered species, including the North Atlantic Right Whale, the official state marine mammal of Massachusetts, which feeds in the waters off of Cape Cod and Nantucket, according to the AG’s Office. There are only about 410 of these critically endangered whales remaining in existence. The plan would also increase harmful greenhouse gas emissions at a time when Massachusetts’ coastal communities are already investing significant resources to adapt to rising tides and storm surges—running directly counter to state policies that have made Massachusetts a national leader in addressing climate change.
Today’s multistate lawsuit, led by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, is joined by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Virginia.
Handling this case for Massachusetts is Assistant Attorney General Matthew Ireland and Special Assistant Attorney General Megan Herzog of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division.