State attorney general joins others in attempt to block oil exploration off coast

(Jan. 4, 2019) Maryland General Attorney Brian E. Frosh is leading a coalition of nine attorney generals in suing the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to prevent seismic testing off the Atlantic coast.

Frosh announced his federal lawsuit on Dec. 20 at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. It is one of two legal challenges to the attempt to open waters to offshore oil exploration.

A separate action was filed earlier last month in South Carolina against the service and federal officials by a coalition of local and national environment organizations.

In that case, Oceana, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, North Carolina Coastal Federation, One Hundred Miles, Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation filed a suit against Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Chris Oliver.

That lawsuit claims that the NMFS violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it approved testing by a pair companies in November.

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Frosh joins several environmental organizations in protest of offshore oil drilling and seismic testing, which could affect the Atlantic ecosystem.

Seismic testing has drawn bipartisan opposition all along the Atlantic seaboard. It uses a specialized air gun to blast the sea floor every 10 seconds for weeks at a time, possibly to detriment of marine mammals. The blasts are so powerful they penetrate rock layers beneath the sea floor, and can travel through the ocean for thousands of kilometers.

The debate over seismic testing to determine the possibility of oil off the Atlantic coast, reopened in late November when the service granted five incidental harassment authorizations, or IHAs, which gives the private companies permission to use seismic airgun blasts.

“Seismic testing will have dangerous consequences for hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, including endangered species,” Attorney General Frosh said in a press release. “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.”

This is the second attempt the Trump Administration has attempted offshore drilling. On April 28, 2017, President Trump signed Executive Order 13797, aimed at expanding offshore drilling and exploration in U.S. waters. The Department of the Interior reversed a decision made in January 2017 to deny seismic airgun blasting permits in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida, in response to the executive order.

Seismic surveys have not been conducted in the region for at least 30 years.

A recent economic analysis by Oceana finds that offshore drilling activities including seismic airgun blasting, along the Atlantic threaten over 1.5 million jobs and nearly $108 billion in GDP, and would yield less than seven months’-worth of oil and less than six months’-worth of gas.

Currently, opposition and concern over offshore drilling activities in the Atlantic includes governors of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire; more than 240 East Coast state municipalities; over 1,500 local, state and federal bipartisan officials and all three East Coast Fishery Management Councils.

The lawsuit filed by Frosh includes Connecticut Attorney General George Jepson, Delaware Attorney General Matthew Denn, Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood, North Carolina Attorney General Joshua Stein, and Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring.

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