Attorneys general from nine coastal states are intervening in a lawsuit aimed at blocking seismic surveys that could help pinpoint oil under Atlantic waters but also imperil whales and dolphins.  The move brings the heft and resources of top state law enforcement officials to a fight over the future of oil and gas exploration along the U.S. East Coast.  “We’re protecting the interests of our states,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh in an interview. “This is a precursor to offshore drilling. And the dangers of offshore drilling and the frivolity of it when you look at the consequences of climate change are stunning.”

The attorneys general from Maryland, New York and other states filed a document Thursday joining a lawsuit by environmentalists in a South Carolina-based federal district court challenging a decision that opens the door to seismic surveys along the East Coast. The suit takes aim at the National Marine Fisheries Service’s recent 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.

The five companies seeking to conduct the geological surveys — including TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Co. ASA, Schlumberger Ltd. subsidiary WesternGeco Ltd., and a unit of ION Geophysical Corp. — still must win individual permits from the Interior Department to conduct the work.  But the attorneys general argue that the fisheries service wrongly lifted a major barrier to the activity when it issued the animal harassment authorizations and concluded that the tests would have only a “negligible impact” on marine mammals. The opponents say the agency ran afoul of federal laws that bar the harassment, harming or killing of certain species without specific authorization.

“The consequences will be catastrophic for marine mammals,” Frosh said, arguing that the agency acted arbitrarily in considering each company’s proposed activities in isolation.