whales swimming near the surface of the ocean

Enlarge / Humpback whales (credit: NOAA)

On Friday, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) approved a plan to make it legal for five companies to conduct seismic testing off the Atlantic coast, in an area stretching from Delaware to Florida.

The seismic testing is an initial step toward leasing federal offshore waters to oil companies that may want to drill there. In January, the Trump Administration opened up more than 90 percent of the federal offshore area to potential lease sales.

Individual states largely oppose offshore drilling, fearing that another Deepwater Horizon disaster could ruin their tourism economies. But because state waters end three miles off the coast and federal waters aren’t subject to state rules, states have found themselves trying to negotiate with a mercurial federal government. Florida received an exemption from lease sales from the Interior Department (at least until 2022, when a federal moratorium on drilling is lifted). But New Jersey hasn’t, and the state has sued the Interior Department to find out why.

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