Court rules seismic test can proceed

Staff Writer

A panel of Third Circuit Court of Appeals judges on Monday denied the state’s last-ditch effort to block a seismic test from going forward.

Lawrence Hajna, press officer for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), said it is not clear what the state’s next move would be now that the court has ruled that testing in the Atlantic Ocean can move forward.

“We are going to review it, and we are going to have to make some decision on what to do next,” he said. “Obviously, we are very disappointed.”

The study has a one-month window that coincides with the height of fish migrations through the study area. The project is expected to impact a 240-square-mile area over the course of 30 days, concluding Aug. 17.

A spokeswoman for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the lead agency for the study, declined to comment Monday on the possible start date of the project.

Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action (COA), which has spearheaded opposition to the project, said in a statement Monday that the project is detrimental to marine animals and the ocean.

“This is a very disappointing decision for marine life and for those who depend on a clean and healthy ocean,” she said. “It is upsetting that the blasting of our ocean be allowed to continue during the legal challenge.”

The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office filed a motion July 3 for an injunction to block the testing on behalf of the state, the DEP and DEP Commissioner Bob Martin.

The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Trenton, argued that the NSF and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) did not provide the state with an opportunity to review the project for consistency with its coastal zone management program as required by the Coastal Zone Management Act. The project area is 25 to 85 kilometers off the coast of Barnegat and would consist of 246- to 254-decibel sound blasts every 5.4 seconds over 30 days in an effort to study climate change impacts.

Opponents of the testing claim it would be a prelude to oil drilling off the coast and would have a detrimental impact on several species of marine life, including whales, dolphins, sea turtles, scallops and squid. In addition, they argue it will be detrimental to the commercial fishing industry.

A U.S. District Court judge denied the motion on July 8, prompting the state to appeal the ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

Along with the NSF and NOAA, the suit also named France Córdova, director of the NSF; the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) and its director, Paul Scholz; and the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory as defendants.

Funded by the NSF, the seismic study is being conducted by Rutgers University, Columbia University and the University of Texas.

The two-count injunction asked the court to block the defendants from proceeding with the project unless the state was given an opportunity to review the testing for consistency with New Jersey laws.

Zipf said that while the project likely is moving forward this summer, she is confident the courts will eventually rule against seismic testing for the future.

“COA is confident that the state will eventually prevail in court, because the state and its citizens were denied important opportunities to review the proposal,” she said. “However, that decision will come too late to save a single creature from this project.”

Advocates such as U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-6), COA, the Recreational Fishing Alliance and Jersey Coast Anglers Association began a campaign on May 23 to halt the project.

Zipf took part in a July 2 rally in Barnegat Light Borough, where she estimated that 300 people showed up to oppose the seismic testing project.

The DEP contends that the proposed seismic research could either directly harm fish or disrupt migration patterns, which would have a detrimental impact on the commercial and recreational fishing industry.