On October 1, a status conference on seismic litigation ruled in favor of the environment by prohibiting fossil fuel companies from using seismic airguns in offshore oil exploration. Fossil fuel companies have long disrupted marine life and coastal communities by using such airguns while exploring offshore oil sources. But the new decision means that once current permits expire on November 30, companies will not be allowed to renew them.
The decision now hands victory to environmental organizations, marine species and coastal communities. There has been an ongoing battle surrounding seismic blasting permits, also known as as Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs). These permits allow fossil fuel companies to use seismic testing in search of oil and gas deposits beneath the ocean.
During the hearing, the lawyers representing the federal government recognized that IHAs expire next month with no room to extend them. Michael Jasny, the director of NRDC’s Marine Mammal Protection Project, applauded the decision. He termed the use of seismic blasts as “senseless” actions that harm the environment.
Seismic blasts are fired as regularly as every 10 seconds. For weeks or even months, these sounds disrupt marine species, including whales and many types of fish, that depend on sound to navigate and hunt. Long periods of seismic blasting make it challenging for such species to find food for survival.
The news revives hope within scientific and conservation communities. In recent years, scientists have warned that continued seismic blasting combined with other threats, such as ship strikes, could lead to the extinction of North Atlantic right whales.
Due to such risks, the Obama administration denied seismic blasting permits to fossil fuel companies in 2017. In November 2018, the Trump administration issued fresh IHAs. This move was met by backlash from NRDC, 10 states and several businesses and coastal communities, who collectively took the matter to court. Although the ruling ended in a victory, Jasny says that more efforts still have to be made to seal any loopholes and end seismic blasting once and for all.
Image via Amy Humphries