15 S.C. mayors urge Obama to say no to seismic blasting (copy) (copy) (copy)

A seismic survey ship in operation offshore mid-Atlantic states. Provided by the International Association of Geophysical Contractors.

Attorneys general from nine states say they will join the South Carolina-based offshore drilling lawsuit against the Trump administration seeking to halt permits for exploring natural gas and oil.

The move adds teeth and resources to the ongoing legal fight over the fate of offshore drilling in the Atlantic.

The legal officials seeking to intervene in the federal lawsuit represent Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.

All of the attorneys general seeking to join the suit are Democrats.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh announced the multi-state effort Thursday. The group planned to file a motion to intervene in the lawsuit filed this month in U.S. District Court in Charleston on behalf of 16 coastal South Carolina communities and nine conservation groups.

Frosh pointed to concern for marine life as a reason for the intervention, saying seismic blasts used in the initial search procedure could expose whales, dolphins and porpoises to sound blasts greater than 160 decibels. 

"Marine animals have highly sensitive hearing," he said. "Their hearing is what allows them to communicate, to navigate, to socialize, to hunt, to feed, and to mate. Hearing impairment can cause their death and blasts from arrays of air guns disrupts their lives and behaviors."

Frosh said a scientist told him such testing would be akin to having repeated blasts of dynamite go off in someone's living room every ten seconds for months at a time.

Oceana, one of the nine environmental groups participating in the federal lawsuit, said the addition of the other state legal officers shows coastal states stand together in opposing offshore drilling off the Eastern seaboard.

"Today’s announcement sends a clear message to President Trump that coastal states are united against harmful seismic airgun blasting for offshore drilling," Oceana campaign director Diane Hoskins said in a media statement.

"These attorneys general are standing up for their states, their way of life and their coastal economies," she added.

Absent from this fight is South Carolina's Attorney General Alan Wilson.

"Our office has been working with the governor's office to address concerns regarding offshore seismic testing and we are currently reviewing all options available to us to include possibly bringing our own lawsuit," said Wilson spokesman Robert Kittle.

Gov. Henry McMaster's office issued a statement saying they were still prepared to negotiate with the administration to prevent exploration from coming here.

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"The governor’s position hasn’t changed," said spokesman Brian Symmes. "While he shares a common goal with those who have decided to sign onto this lawsuit, he views such action as a last resort and will continue to work with the administration to ensure that we will never see seismic testing or drilling off of South Carolina’s coast."

At the time the federal lawsuit was filed in Charleston this month, McMaster said he was not ready to sue the Trump administration and called lawsuits a "last resort."

He also told The Post and Courier at the time that he planned to continue trying to reason with Trump to convince him that drilling off South Carolina's coast is not practical.

Florida is the only state on the East Coast to have been granted a drilling exemption by the Trump administration thus far.

In late November, federal regulators announced they would authorize five permit requests to conduct seismic testing along the East Coast, even if it meant marine life could be disturbed in the process. It was the final step needed for the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to lease the waters to the exploration companies.

The authorizations did not give companies the ability to begin testing, but did give them the green light to apply for a permit with the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The lawsuit filed in South Carolina this month takes aim at the National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision to issue authorizations that permit marine mammals to be disturbed by proposed seismic surveys mapping potential oil reserves in Atlantic waters from Delaware to central Florida.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.