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Groups challenge seismic testing of oil and gas in Gulf of Mexico

GREENBELT, MD – NRDC and partner groups Healthy Gulf, Center for Biological Diversity, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and Surfrider Foundation today sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) over a Trump administration decision authorize in-depth seismic testing in the Gulf of Mexico, with minimal protections for marine animals.

The most threatened is an endangered whale species with only 50 surviving individuals.

The lawsuit, which was filed near the NMFS headquarters in southern Maryland, claims the agency violated the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the National Policy Act (NEPA) when it approved the tests, which are used to search for oil. and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor. The loud noise produced by the tests is known to travel widely across the ocean and disrupt marine animals on a large scale, impairing their ability to communicate, feed and reproduce.

“The NMFS has played with both science and some of this country’s basic environmental laws to justify an unbearable amount of damage to marine species. The agency should fight to save the endangered whales, not auction their last chances of survival to the oil and gas industry, ”said Michael Jasny, Director of the NRDC Marine Mammal Protection Project.

In its testing, the oil and gas industry typically relies on high-energy seismic air guns, which are towed behind ships in large assemblies and release intense bursts of compressed air into the water, producing intense sound every 10 to 12 seconds. Seismic testing takes place day and night and can go on for weeks or months depending on the size of the survey.

The amount of seismic activity predicted by the NMFS is enormous, amounting to 24-hour activity from simultaneous testing each year in what is among the most intensively surveyed bodies of water on the planet. The agency’s approval would allow industry to harm marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico more than 8 million times over 5 years.

“The level of damage to Gulf marine mammals that the NMFS allows is immense and unacceptable. This could contribute to the extinction of the critically endangered Rice’s Whale and jeopardize the recovery of many dolphin and whale populations affected by the BP disaster, ”said Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director of Healthy Gulf.

Among the most endangered species is the Gulf of Mexico whale, also known as the “rice whale”. In January, NMFS scientists published a paper recognizing the Gulf of Mexico whale as a unique species, making it the only baleen whale species believed to reside entirely off the United States. Last year, the NMFS found that oil and gas activities, including seismic testing, would jeopardize the continued existence of the whales if they continued without sufficient protection. It is believed that only 50 individuals remain.

“We must block this Trump-approved program to detonate some of the world’s most endangered whales with seismic air cannons,” he added. said Kristen Monsell, legal director of the Oceans program at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The horribly noisy tests of the oil industry threaten the very existence of the Gulf of Mexico whale, and it will cause enormous damage to other marine mammals. Making that kind of havoc to find new fossil fuels makes no sense as the climate crisis escalates, and we need Biden officials to stop allowing new offshore drilling activity. ”

The lawsuit claims the NMFS violated endangered species law by failing to prescribe “reasonable and prudent alternatives” required by law to protect the Gulf of Mexico whale from seismic testing. He also claims that the agency violated the standards of the Marine Mammal Protection Act that only a “small number” of marine mammals will be captured, that the impacts on these species and populations will be “negligible” and that, thanks to mitigation, the “least achievable negative effects”. impact ”on marine mammals and their habitat is achieved.

Finally, the lawsuit claims that the NMFS, in conjunction with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to properly assess the impacts of seismic testing on the Gulf of Mexico whale.

Members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums have a long history of working to protect and save species from extinction. “This five-year approval issued on the last day of the Trump administration appears rushed and inconsistent with the scientific record,” said Dan Ashe, president and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “If left unchecked, the number of seismic tests proposed in the Gulf of Mexico could have catastrophic effects on the marine animals that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico, particularly the whales of the Gulf of Mexico, one of the most common species. most threatened in the world. We must do what we can to avoid this possible outcome. ”

The lawsuit was filed as the Biden administration was reviewing the government’s leasing and licensing practices for fossil fuel development on federal lands. In January, the White House included the NMFS rule allowing seismic testing, which was released in the closing hours of the Trump administration, in a list of the agency’s environmental actions for review.

“Seismic testing can be harmful to the tens of thousands of dolphins, whales and other marine life in the Gulf of Mexico”, said Angela Howe, Legal Director of the Surfrider Foundation. “We filed this complaint to protect the Gulf of Mexico from the harmful effects of seismic testing and to ensure that federal laws to protect our environment are properly enforced. We are proud to join with our partners in defending the precious marine ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico for present and future generations.

“These strong seismic explosions will needlessly harm whales and dolphins in the Gulf in order to search for more oil and gas reserves that we do not need. The oil industry has a stock of nearly 10 million acres of public land that has yet to be developed. As the demand for petroleum products continues to decline, there is no reason to harm the majestic and endangered whales just to seek new supplies that will not be needed in the future ”, said Brettny Hardy, senior counsel at Earthjustice, who represents Healthy Gulf and Surfrider Foundation in the lawsuit.


NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international non-profit environmental organization with over 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York; Washington DC; Los Angeles; San-Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us atwww.nrdc.organd follow us on Twitter@NRDC.

Healthy Gulf The goal is to collaborate with and serve the communities that love the Gulf of Mexico by providing the research, communication and coalition building tools necessary to reverse the long model of overexploitation of the Gulf’s natural resources. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @HealthyGulf.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national non-profit conservation organization with over 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places.

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the fields of conservation, animal welfare, education, science and recreation. The AZA is the accreditation body for the best zoos and aquariums in the United States and 12 other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo every time you visit a zoo or aquarium to make sure that you are supporting an establishment dedicated to providing excellent animal care, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to help animals around the world. To learn more, visit

The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and enjoying the ocean, waves and beaches of our world, for all, through a powerful network of activists. Founded in 1984, the Surfrider Foundation today has over one million supporters, activists and members, with more than 170 volunteer-led student chapters and clubs in the United States. Learn more at

Earth justice is the premier environmental law nonprofit organization. We exercise the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect human health, preserve beautiful places and wildlife, advance clean energy, and fight climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @Earthjustice.

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