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Surfrider Set To Sue Trump Administration

Environmental concerns aren't on the Trump administration's agenda. They've taken steps back from the Paris Climate Accord, stepped back from investment in renewables, revamped fossil fuel production, and on the 30th of November, permitted the use of exploratory seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean.

This seismic exploration allows oil and gas companies to conduct seismic blasts to assess the suitability of particular regions for oil and gas extraction. Aside from concerns around the use of these fossil fuels once extraction begins, there's a more immediate issue – the killing and injuring of marine animals in close proximity to these blasts.

The lawsuit filed this morning by Surfrider chapters in a South Carolina district court claims that the air gun blasts used in seismic testing violate federal laws protecting marine life. The proposed seismic activity would affect over 200,000 square miles of ocean, which the Surfrider foundation claims will injure up to 130,000 animals from 712 marine species.

The Surfrider foundation's lawsuit lays specific claim against the National Marine Fisheries Service's 'Incidental Harassment Authorization', allowing companies to indirectly impact marine animals during testing. The Surfrider's press release claims that this 'authorization' allows companies to kill marine animals, however, the New York Times report suggests that this is not the case, and that the authorization allows animals to be "harassed but not harmed". According to a federal marine biologist, seismic testing has not been associated with whales beaching themselves, but there does exist evidence that the loud blasts incapacitate these and other animals that are reliant upon their hearing.

Species like the humpback, sei, fin and sperm whales, as well as the critically endangered Atlantic right whale, and bottlenose dolphins will all be impacted by the proposed testing. Photo: Surfrider

Most air guns fire at around 200-240 decibels. A volume which would injure, if not deafen a number of animals within close range. While there is no definitive research which shows the scope and level of injury these blasts may sustain, it's better to err on the side of caution. 

According to the Surfrider's press release, The Trump administration's current plan opens 90 percent of US oceans to seismic testing. Several states however have already begun seeking exemption from the permits. Henry McMaster, the South Carolina Governor is one of these individuals opposing the offshore lease sales.

The Obama administration, when in power, had renewed bans on offshore drilling in US waters, and US-representative elect, Joe Cunningham, will be pursuing laws to reinstate these previous bans. 

In the meantime, the Surfrider foundation, Earthjustice, and other conservation groups are hoping their legal pursuits stop or at least delay seismic exploration.

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