Whenever a disaster unfolds, it seems to offer the perfect excuse for politically motivated individuals and organizations to push their agendas, whether it’s AIDS being God’s punishment for immoral lifestyles or the recent betting on which species would first become extinct due to the Maconda blowout.

Now, in a classic case of “not quite able to connect all the dots,” the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has joined with other environmental groups to sue the former US Minerals Management Service (MMS, now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement) for its failure to “adequately analyze the substantial impacts of seismic surveys on the Gulf’s marine environment before permitting activities there, in clear violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.”

Already factual inaccuracies are beginning to mount (and I’ve not yet gotten past the first paragraph of the press release). I think it’s fair to say that “adequate analysis” of the potential effect of airgun noise on the marine population has been going on for quite some time, with a major study on sperm whales being published a couple of years ago that was quite inconclusive in terms of the animals showing any adverse reactions whatsoever to seismic activity in the area.

But it quickly gets worse because, somehow, the BP incident is dragged into the picture. Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network, is quoted as saying, “The BP drilling disaster is Exhibit A in how the Gulf of Mexico is suffering from the abuses of the oil industry. Even as the eyes of the world are focused on this failure, Exhibit B is the continuing use of seismic surveys throughout the Gulf. This suit seeks to ensure that continuing seismic surveys are not allowed to jeopardize the health of already struggling dolphins and whales.”

Here I stoop to conjecture, but with much of the Gulf covered in an oily sheen and with a drilling moratorium for the foreseeable future, I imagine that seismic activity in the Gulf is probably already experiencing a slowdown. Additionally, it appears that permits for new surveys in proximity to the spill are not being allowed due to concerns about the health of the animals. But the NRDC chooses to characterize seismic activity in the region as a “constant pounding” that undermines the ability of marine mammals to go about their business.

“Here, as with drilling, MMS has failed to meet the most fundamental legal requirements, and it is resulting in yet more untolerable harm to marine mammals in the Gulf,” Michael Jasny, senior policy analyst at NRDC, is quoted as saying.

How harmful are these surveys? It might be of interest to seismic contractors to know that their source efforts can travel “sometimes thousands of miles” under water, with potentially severe impacts such as permanent or temporary hearing loss, internal hemorrhaging, stranding, and death. But has the MMS been concerned? Obviously not, since they’re being accused of “rubber-stamping” permits for seismic surveys and ignoring the impact on whales and wildlife.

The first column I ever wrote on studies geared toward the impact of airguns on marine mammals was several years ago and was titled “The Sounds of Science.” In it I argued that marine mammals should certainly be protected from harmful sounds, but that regulators and policy makers should not jump to conclusions and should study the situation in detail. They have done just that, teaming up with academia and industry to fund numerous studies and research programs aimed at better understanding the marine mammal population in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere. The aforementioned sperm whale study seemed to indicate that in some cases the whales were actually following the boats, as if they found their activities interesting. This certainly doesn’t suggest that the whales were suffering from hearing loss or hemorrhaging unless they’re just downright masochistic.

I wish that organizations like the NRDC would do their homework, stop scaring people to death, and learn the difference between news and sensationalism.