Environmental organizations from Georgia and the Carolinas are among a group suing the Trump Administration over its decision to allow offshore oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic Ocean.
The groups say the federal government failed to consider the risks to whales and other marine animals when it signed off last month on permits for private companies to conduct seismic tests to look for oil and natural gas in the ocean off the East Coast, from Central Florida to Delaware.
“Seismic testing in search of oil and gas off our coast would cause more harm than good,” said Alice Keyes, vice president of coastal conservation with the Georgia conservation group, 100 Miles, which is one of the plaintiffs in the suit.
The tests involve loud underwater blasts, which environmental groups and scientists say can harm underwater life, from whales, to tiny plankton.
A spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the agency doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation. She did point out that the permits the agency approved wouldn’t allow any whales to be killed. And NOAA signing off on the permits isn’t the last step. Another federal agency, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, still has to issue them to the five companies that applied.
The question of whether to allow oil and gas exploration – and possibly drilling – in the Atlantic also came up during the Obama Administration. Supporters say they should at least be allowed to look for oil and gas reserves, to see what’s out there, while opponents say it’s not worth the risk to wildlife, or to coastal tourism.
The Obama Administration ultimately decided not to allow exploration to go forward, but by then a bipartisan coalition of coastal politicians, environmentalists and businesses had formed in opposition to the idea.
Members of that coalition turned out for a rally on Tuesday in Charleston, South Carolina.
“We the people of the Low Country strongly oppose offshore drilling and we strongly oppose seismic airgun blasting,” said Congressman-elect Joe Cunningham, a South Carolina Democrat who said he intends to introduce legislation to reinstate a ban on offshore drilling in the Atlantic.
In Georgia, Republican Don Hogan, a state representative from Glynn County, said that offshore oil exploration isn’t worth the risk to the environment.
“Right now, we’re meeting our needs, in fact we’re even exporting oil, so I’m just not for the exploring of oil off the coast of Georgia,” he said.
Ten cities in Georgia have passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling or exploration, according to the environmental group Oceana, which is also a plaintiff in the suit. But not all coastal politicians are opposed.
When NOAA approved the permits, Congressman Buddy Carter said he continues to support an “all-of-the-above energy approach,” and he said believes the seismic testing can be done in a way that protects the coast and marine life.
“It is irresponsible to not at least see what is out there,” he said. “There is a way to maximize safety and mitigation efforts to ensure a positive relationship exists between increasing our energy independence and protecting our beautiful coast, marine life and industries.”
Emma Hurt contributed to this story.