• May 18th, 2024
  • Saturday, 10:58:28 AM

Agencies Failing to Protect Gulf of México Wildlife from Offshore Drilling

Photo: Chanel Ward New U.S. citizen, Joselyn Sawyer with her husband Michael Sawyer.

Earthjustice, on behalf of three conservation groups, sued the Trump administration last week for failing to complete a legally required consultation about offshore drilling’s harms to threatened and endangered species in the Gulf of México.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are required under the Endangered Species Act to complete a consultation with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on its oversight of oil and gas operations that could impact threatened and endangered species. The last time the agencies completed a consultation, called a biological opinion, was in 2007, three years before the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster which led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

With last week’s lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Florida, the Gulf Restoration Network, Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity are challenging the agencies for unreasonably delaying completion of a new consultation and seeking a court order to compel them to complete it within three months.

A new biological opinion likely would result in additional safeguards to prevent further harm to sea turtles, whales, and other threatened and endangered species from oil and gas operations in the Gulf.

In 2010, the BP oil spill caused the death or serious harm to billions, if not trillions, of fish, sea turtles, whales, and other animals, including more than 100,000 individuals of species listed as threatened or endangered, according to scientists’ estimates.

Recognizing that the disaster devastated the Gulf ecosystem and its wildlife — and invalidated many of the assumptions in the 2007 biological opinion — the Services and BOEM reinitiated the consultation process in late 2010. However, more than seven years later, the agencies still have not completed a new biological opinion, even as the Trump administration plans to ramp up offshore drilling operations in the Gulf.

“The Gulf of México has long been written off as America’s gas station, jeopardizing Gulf Coast communities, coastal economies, and thousands of whales, sea turtles, dolphins, oysters, and other species that wind up in the path of oil and gas spills. We seek to hold the Trump administration accountable to the law in its duty to protect endangered species and compel the oil and gas industry to clean up its act in the Gulf,” said Chris Eaton, Earthjustice attorney.

“For over 10 years, the federal agencies that are responsible for the protection of threatened and endangered species in the Gulf of México have been sitting on their hands. As we saw in the BP disaster, the harm caused by the oil and gas industry wreaks havoc on our Gulf. It’s time for these agencies to do their job and comply with the law,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Gulf Restoration Network.

“The Gulf has been treated as a sacrifice zone for corporate polluters for far too long,” said Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program. “We will not allow the Trump administration to ignore serious threats to coastal ecosystems in their reckless quest to sell off America’s waters to the fossil fuel industry for offshore drilling.”

“The Trump administration can’t keep turning a blind eye to the damage offshore drilling does to the Gulf’s most imperiled species,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans program legal director at the Center. “Trump officials want to expand offshore drilling and fracking into nearly every corner of the Gulf before they understand what’s out there. Our government has a moral and legal obligation to carefully study the risks to rare whales, sea turtles, and other animals before allowing these dirty, dangerous practices. It’s time for the courts to remind the agencies of this important duty.”