All manner of marine life, from plankton to the largest of whales, will be spared from months of nonstop thunderous seismic blasts that could kill or harm them because the oil and gas explorers and the federal government are allowing their permits to expire on Nov. 30 — and it would take at least a year for them to obtain new ones — should they wish to, environmentalists say.
“If you had told me two years ago 2020 would begin and end without any seismic air gun testing I would have been elated; that’s why I’m elated now,” Steve Mashuda, the Seattle-based managing attorney for oceans at Earthjustice, said by telephone.
The San Francisco-based nonprofit is one of several environmental nonprofits that in December 2018 sued in a South Carolina federal court to stop the tests — twice as loud as a jet engine — sought from New Jersey’s Cape May to Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Though New York and New England were not included, the blasts are so powerful they travel thousands of miles. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and a number of other East Coast local, state and federal officials opposed them — the first step in the Trump administration’s initial plan to open the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas firms.
“Our position has not changed,” a Cuomo spokesman, Jordan Levine, said by email.
Late last month, President Donald Trump said Virginia and North Carolina will be part of the 10-year moratorium on offshore drilling in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida he announced earlier that month.
In their lawsuit, the environmentalists said the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by permitting the five seismic testing firms to “to harm or harass” marine life.
While the lawsuit ground on, public support for drilling off the Eastern Seaboard waned or reversed, as local and state officials were convinced oil spills and scenery-wrecking rigs could threaten critical tourism and fishing industries.
The past few years of increasingly powerful storms have pushed coastal communities toward viewing rising seas as a grave danger burning fossil fuels will only worsen. Declining oil prices — down as by almost two-thirds by some measures from highs hit earlier this decade — also have sliced drillers’ interest.
Though wind turbines kill a half-million birds every year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates, because both the turbines and birds rely on the strong winds along migration routes, turbine developers do not need seismic tests to moor the turbines to the sea bed.
The seismic tests that were sought, which are used to find oil and gas deposits under the sea floor, were particularly hazardous because the firms were focused in some of the same areas, which greatly