Green groups seek to block Atlantic offshore oil testing

Environmental groups are asking a federal court to block testing for oil and natural gas in the seafloor under the Atlantic Ocean.

While the Trump administration has not issued the final permits to five companies who want to do the testing using seismic airguns, the green organizations, led by the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, say the permits are “imminent” and testing could begin within 30 days.

“Seismic airguns create an underwater blast louder than all but military-grade explosives,” the groups wrote to the District Court for the District of South Carolina.

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“For many marine species, seismic blasting will interfere with the ability to find food, care for their young, and communicate — behaviors critical to survival. [National Marine Fisheries Service] concedes that marine mammals will suffer harms like these hundreds of thousands of times,” they said.

They're seeking a preliminary injunction, in which the court would stop officials from allowing the testing while their larger case is being considered.

Seismic testing is a likely precursor to offshore drilling. As part of President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE’s aggressive pro-fossil fuel agenda, the Interior Department proposed last year to allow drilling along the entire Atlantic coast.

The request is part of a lawsuit the groups filed last year to overturn the November decision by the Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to formally allow the five companies to harm marine species when they do testing.

The groups say those authorizations illegally disregarded scientific findings about the harm to species such as the endangered right whale. A coalition of coastal states opposed to drilling is also suing in the same lawsuit.

The NMFS permit is a necessary step toward seismic testing. But the final permit has to come from the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management, an action that hasn’t yet happened but that the green groups say could happen soon.

The Justice Department will likely have the opportunity to rebut the green groups' arguments.

The groups and states scored a temporary win last month when the South Carolina federal court blocked the Trump administration from granting any seismic permits during the partial government shutdown.