East Coast Opposition to Seismic Airguns Mounts as Oil Companies Push to Expand Drilling to Atlantic

International, national and local forces are mobilizing up and down the East Coast, and pressure is being placed on President Obama to stop offshore drilling in the Atlantic

While ocean blasting was banished from Central Coast waters (for now) by the California Coastal Commission in 2012, the East Coast hasn’t been so lucky. Fortunately, international, national and local forces are mobilizing up and down the East Coast, and pressure is being placed on President Obama to stop offshore drilling in the Atlantic.

Oceana, the Washington, D.C.-based environmental advocacy organization, recently announced that 110 local elected officials and 155 conservation and animal welfare organizations have joined the mounting opposition against seismic-airgun use along the East Coast.

Six coastal towns have also passed local resolutions opposing or voicing concern with their use (Cocoa Beach, FL, Carolina Beach, NC, Caswell Beach, NC, Nags Head, NC, Bradley Beach, NJ and Red Bank, NJ.), with more local communities expected to join the stand against encroaching oil and gas companies.

In February, the United States government released a final proposal that would allow the use of this controversial technology to look for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida. According to the Department of the Interior (DOI), these blasts could injure and possibly kill up to 138,200 marine mammals such as dolphins and whales, while disrupting the necessary activities of millions more.

One species of particular concern is the North Atlantic right whale, the rarest large whale species, of which there are only approximately 500 left worldwide.

Local officials from Maine to Florida are voicing their concerns:

“The use of airguns to conduct these seismic tests threatens fish populations and profitable fisheries. In fact, airgun noise has been shown to decrease catch rates of certain fisheries. Commercial and recreational fishing off the mid and south Atlantic generate billions annually and support hundreds of thousands of jobs. The Department of the Interior’s assessment ignores the economic impacts the proposed seismic testing will have on fisheries and the fishermen who rely on the oceans for their livelihoods.”

Conservation and animal welfare organizations, including Oceana, Surfrider Foundation, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Clean Ocean Action (COA) and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), also sent a letter with the following statement:

“Seismic airgun testing is the first step towards deep-water drilling, which would inevitably bring the Atlantic coast one step closer to the same practice that brought us the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. While proposed seismic airgun testing would span from Delaware to Florida, an oil spill the size of that which flowed from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig would harm sea life, ecosystems, fisheries and coastal economies along the entire East Coast. Furthermore, expanding offshore drilling to the Atlantic will only deepen our dependence on oil and gas, and worsen the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.”

“When it comes to offshore drilling in the U.S. one overarching theme stands out – Drill, Spill, Repeat,” said Claire Douglass, campaign director at Oceana. “Offshore drilling is no safer than it was four year ago, yet President Obama is taking steps to expand this dirty and dangerous industry to the Atlantic. If the President would simply stop to listen, he would hear that coastal communities have no interest in turning the East Coast into a blast zone.”

The Seismic Challenge

An Oceana report released last year outlined the threats of seismic airgun use and offshore drilling to marine life and coastal economies along the East Coast, including the potential danger to commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as tourism and coastal recreation, which puts more than 730,000 jobs at risk in the blast zone.

In February, more than 100 scientists called on President Obama and his administration to wait on new acoustic guidelines for marine mammals, which are currently in development by the National Marine Fisheries Service. These guidelines are 15 years in the making and aim to provide a better understanding of how marine mammals are impacted by varying levels of manmade sound as well as demonstrate the measures that are needed to protect them. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and eight additional U.S. senators also sent a letter to DOI Secretary Sally Jewell urging her to hold off on issuing the recent administrative decision until all of the best available science, including these new acoustic guidelines, can be incorporated.

Oceana has also delivered more than 100,000 petitions opposing seismic airguns to the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, as well as approximately 50 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, also called on President Obama to stop the use of seismic airguns last year.

Seismic airguns create one of the loudest man-made sounds in the ocean, each 100,000 times more intense than what one would experience if standing near a jet engine. The dynamite-like blasts occur every 10 seconds, for days to weeks at a time. Seismic airguns are loud enough to kill small animals like fish eggs and larvae at close ranges and can disrupt the behavior of large animals like whales and dolphins from up to 100 miles away.

Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, Oceana have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. Oceana has more 600,000 supporters worldwide, and offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. For more information about Oceana and its global efforts visit www.oceana.org and www.stopthedrill.org.

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Photo:  To commemorate the four-year anniversary of the BP oil spill, the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, Oceana conducted a three-day nighttime-visual-projection demonstration on government buildings in Washington, D.C. from April 14th to 16th. The image series called on President Obama and Secretary Jewell to stop offshore drilling in the Atlantic before it starts.

California Offshore Fracking More Widespread Than Anyone Realized

The oil production technique known as fracking is more widespread and frequently used in the offshore platforms and man-made islands near some of California’s most populous and famous coastal communities than state officials believed.

Fracking

By ALICIA CHANG and JASON DEAREN, AP

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The oil production technique known as fracking is more widespread and frequently used in the offshore platforms and man-made islands near some of California’s most populous and famous coastal communities than state officials believed.

In waters off Long Beach, Seal Beach and Huntington Beach — some of the region’s most popular surfing strands and tourist attractions — oil companies have used fracking at least 203 times at six sites in the past two decades, according to interviews and drilling records obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.

Just this year in Long Beach Harbor, the nation’s second-largest container port, an oil company with exclusive rights to drill there completed five fracks on palm tree-lined, man-made islands. Other companies fracked more than a dozen times from old oil platforms off Huntington Beach and Seal Beach over the past five years.

Though there is no evidence offshore hydraulic fracturing has led to any spills or chemical leaks, the practice occurs with little state or federal oversight of the operations.

The state agency that leases lands and waters to oil companies said officials found new instances of fracking after searching records as part of a review after the AP reported this summer about fracking in federal waters off California, an area from three miles to 200 miles offshore. The state oil permitting agency said it doesn’t track fracking.

As the state continues its investigation into the extent of fracking — both in federal waters and closer to shore — and develops ways to increase oversight under a law that takes effect in 2015, environmental groups are calling for a moratorium on the practice.

“How is it that nobody in state government knew anything about this? It’s a huge institutional failure,” said Kassie Siegel, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Offshore fracking is far more common than anyone realized.”

Little is known about the effects on the marine environment of fracking, which shoots water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to clear old wells or crack rock formations to free oil. Yet neither state nor federal environmental regulators have had any role in overseeing the practice as it increased to revitalize old wells.

New oil leases off the state’s shores have been prohibited since a 1969 oil platform blowout off Santa Barbara, which fouled miles of coastline and gave rise to the modern environmental movement. With no room for physical expansion, oil companies instead have turned to fracking to keep the oil flowing.

The state launched an investigation into the extent of offshore fracking after the AP report in August. California officials initially said at the time there was no record of fracking in the nearshore waters it oversees. Now, as the State Lands Commission and other agencies review records and find more instances of fracking, officials are confused over who exactly is in charge of ensuring the technique is monitored and performed safely.

“We still need to sort out what authority, if any, we have over fracking operations in state waters; it’s very complicated,” said Alison Dettmer, a deputy director of the California Coastal Commission.

Nowhere is the fracking more concentrated than in Long Beach, an oil town with a half-million residents and tourist draws such as the Queen Mary.

The city’s oil arrangement stems from a deal drawn up in 1911, when California granted the tidelands and other water-covered areas to the city as it developed its harbor. When oil was discovered in the 1930s, the money started coming in.

Long Beach transferred $352 million of $581 million in profits to state coffers in fiscal year 2013 from onshore and offshore operations, according to the city’s Gas and Oil Department. Most of the oil recovery comes from traditional drilling while fracking accounts for about 10 percent of the work.

The department says fracking is safe. It has a spill contingency plan and monitors pipelines. Well construction designs are approved by state oil regulators. The designs can be used for conventional drilling and fracking. And the oil industry says offshore fracks are much smaller operations than onshore jobs, involving only a fraction of the chemicals and water used on land.

City oil officials see themselves as partners with Occidental Petroleum Corp. — not regulators — though officials participate in the company’s internal audits and technical reviews by the state.

Occidental and the city briefly took a fracking timeout after passage of the state’s new rules. Long Beach oil operations manager Kevin Tougas said there are plans to frack again later this year. Occidental spokeswoman Susie Geiger said in an email the company doesn’t discuss its operations due to “competitive and proprietary reasons.”

No one is tracking the amounts or precise composition of any fracking chemicals that enter the marine environment, though in September the state passed a law that starting in 2015 would require disclosure of agents used during the procedures.

Fracking fluids can be made up of hundreds of chemicals — some known and others not since they are protected as trade secrets. Some of these chemicals are toxic to fish larvae and crustaceans, bottom dwellers most at risk from drilling activities, according to government health disclosure documents.

Myriad state agencies that oversee drilling, water quality and the ocean said they did no monitoring of fracking chemicals during offshore jobs.

Don Drysdale, a spokesman for the California Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, said the new regulations will include “extensive protections” for groundwater.

The industry estimates that about half of the fluids used during fracking remain in the environment; environmentalists say it is much higher. Long Beach says it uses a closed system and there’s no discharge into the water. Instead, fluids are treated before being re-injected deep under the seafloor.

The Long Beach Water Department, which monitors well water quality annually, said there are no known impacts to residents’ water from fracking.

“It’s our hometown,” said Chris Garner, a fourth-generation resident who heads the gas and oil department. “We have a vested interest in making sure the oil operations have been without harm to the city.”
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(Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press. Original article published October 19, 2013.)

Government Shutdown Affects Weather, Climate Programs

Government Shutdown Affects Weather, Climate Programs (via Climate Central)

By Andrew Freedman Follow @afreedma With the federal government shut down for the first time in 17 years, many of the nation’s weather forecasters remain at work, but longer-term climate research is taking a hit. According to Commerce Department documents…

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U.S. Government Shuts Down

Deadline missed, US slides into government shutdown (via AFP)

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Federal Court: NMFS Failed to Protect Coast Marine Mammals From Navy Sonar

sonar

A federal court has ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) failed to protect thousands of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions from U.S. Navy warfare training exercises along the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington.

In an opinion released Sept. 25, Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas, U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California, found that the agency’s approval of the Navy’s training activities in its Northwest Training Range Complex failed to use the best available science to assess the extent and duration of impacts to whales and other marine mammals. The decision requires the federal agency to reassess its permits to ensure that the Navy’s training activities comply with protective measures in the Endangered Species Act.

“This is a victory for dozens of protected species of marine mammals, including critically endangered Southern Resident orcas, blue whales, humpback whales, dolphins and porpoises,” said Steve Mashuda, an Earthjustice attorney representing a coalition of conservation and Northern California Indian Tribes. “NMFS must now employ the best science and require the Navy to take reasonable and effective actions to avoid and minimize harm from its training activities.”

The Navy uses a vast area of the West Coast, stretching from Northern California to the Canadian border, for training. Activities include anti-submarine warfare exercises involving tracking aircraft and sonar; surface-to-air gunnery and missile exercises; air-to-surface bombing exercises; and extensive testing for several new weapons systems.

In 2010 and 2012, the Fisheries Service authorized the Navy to harm or “take” marine mammals and other sea life through 2015. The permits allow the Navy to conduct increased training exercises that can harm marine mammals and disrupt their migration, nursing, breeding or feeding, primarily as a result of harassment through exposure to the use of sonar.

New science from 2010 and 2011 shows that whales and other marine mammals are far more sensitive to sonar and other noise than previously thought. In permitting the Navy’s activities, NMFS ignored this new information. The court found that the agency violated its legal duty to use this “best available data” when evaluating impacts to endangered whales and other marine life.

The court also rejected the agency’s decision to limit its review to only a five-year period when the Navy has been clear that its training activities will continue indefinitely. The court held that NMFS’s limited review “ignores the realities of the Navy’s acknowledged long-term, ongoing activities in the [Northwest Training Range],” because “a series of short-term analyses can mask the long-term impact of an agency action. … [T]he segmented analysis is inadequate to address long-term effects of the Navy’s acknowledged continuing activities in the area.”

“This is an important win for the environment and for the tribes’ traditional, cultural and subsistence ways in their ancestral coastal territories,” said Hawk Rosales, executive director of the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council. “Marine mammals now stand a better chance of being protected from the Navy’s war testing and training off our coastline.”

According to the ruling, the Fisheries Service must now reassess the permits using the latest science, which could trigger a requirement that the Navy do more to protect whales and dolphins in its ongoing training exercises.

“The Navy’s Northwest Training Range is the size of the state of California, yet not one square inch was off-limits to the most harmful aspects of naval testing and training activities,” said Zak Smith, staff attorney for NRDC. “NMFS relied on faulty science when approving the Navy’s permits and thousands of marine mammals suffered the consequences.”

“Today’s ruling gives whales and other marine mammals a fighting chance against the Navy,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This ruling means that the Navy must take greater precautions to protect marine life.”

The Navy’s mid-frequency sonar has been implicated in mass strandings of marine mammals in, among other places, the Bahamas, Greece, the Canary Islands and Spain. In 2004, during war games near Hawaii, the Navy’s sonar was implicated in a mass stranding of up to 200 melon-headed whales in Hanalei Bay. In 2003 the USS Shoup,operating in Washington’s Haro Strait, exposed a group of endangered Southern Resident killer whales to mid-frequency sonar, causing the animals to stop feeding and attempt to flee the sound. Even when sonar use does not result in these or other kinds of physical injury, it can disrupt feeding, migration and breeding or drive whales from areas vital to their survival.

“In 2003, NMFS learned firsthand the harmful impacts of Navy sonar in Washington waters when active sonar blasts distressed members of J pod, one of our resident pods of endangered orcas,” said Kyle Loring, staff attorney at Friends of the San Juans. “The use of deafening noises just does not belong in sensitive areas or marine sanctuaries where whales and dolphins use their acute hearing to feed, navigate, and raise their young.”

Said Marcie Keever, Oceans & Vessels program director at Friends of the Earth: “Recent research confirms that the 82 remaining endangered Southern Resident orcas use coastal waters within the Navy’s training range to find salmon during the critical fall and winter months. NMFS must do more to assure that the Navy is not pushing these critically endangered orcas and other endangered marine mammals even closer to extinction.”

Earthjustice represents the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Friends of the San Juans and has partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in the lawsuit.

(Source: Center for Biological Diversity)

New Regulations Target Climate Change-Causing Emissions, Coal Industry

The End of Coal? (via Moyers & Company)

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New NASA Map Shows Where You Are Most Likely To Die From Air Pollution

New NASA Map Shows Where You Are Most Likely To Die From Air Pollution (via Planetsave)

Each year millions of premature deaths world-wide result from various forms of air pollution. According to a new atmospheric pollution model designed by earth scientist Jason West of the University of North Carolina (data from which informs the NASA…

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US Nuclear Power In Decline

Originally published on sustainablog.by J. Matthew Roney Nuclear power generation in the United States is falling. After increasing rapidly since the 1970s, electricity generation at U.S. nuclear plants began to grow more slowly in the early 2000s.…

US Nuclear Power In Decline (via Clean Technica)

Originally published on sustainablog.by J. Matthew Roney Nuclear power generation in the United States is falling. After increasing rapidly since the 1970s, electricity generation at U.S. nuclear plants began to grow more slowly in the early 2000s.…

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US missed 'red flags' about gunman: Pentagon chief

US missed ‘red flags’ about gunman: Pentagon chief (via AFP)

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel acknowledged Wednesday authorities missed some “red flags” that might have averted a deadly shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard, vowing to close any gaps in security. Hagel made the admission in the wake of…

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Public Works Designer Patricia Johanson Breaks Ground on Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City

A golden opportunity for Los Osos was squandered in early 2006 when the legendary New York-based eco-artist visited Los Osos to review options for a post-recall wastewater project. Even after expressing a ‘kinship’ with Los Osos, however, she was ignored by town leaders. Now she’s bringing her latest design magic to Salt Lake City, and it’s everything Los Osos should have today—and still can while there’s still time on the clock.

A golden opportunity for Los Osos was squandered in early 2006 when the legendary New York-based eco-artist visited Los Osos to review options for a post-recall wastewater project. Even after expressing a ‘kinship’ with Los Osos, however, she was ignored by town leaders. Now she’s bringing her latest design magic to Salt Lake City, and it’s everything Los Osos should have today—and still can while there’s still time on the clock.

By ED OCHS

Almost exactly five years to the day The Rock launched its first newspaper, we received a note from world-famous eco-artist and public works designer Patricia Johanson. She had some good news to share.

“After eight years and inordinate sums of money to the wrong people,” she wrote on February 5, “all the legal agreements have been signed and my Salt Lake City project is finally in construction. Why is it developers always seem to win at the expense of the general public! … It seems to be a process of wearing everyone down.”

Her note reminded us that in February 2006 Pam Ochs, head of the Los Osos Taxpayers Association (LOTA) and a founding partner in The Rock, invited Johanson to Los Osos to review post-recall sewer project options. The Eden of Los Osos and the naturalist genius of Johanson were a perfect match if there ever was one, and she said she felt a kinship with Los Osos and would certainly consider working there if asked.

Johanson’s fit with Los Osos was hand in glove, the beauty of Los Osos and the art of Patricia Johanson, together, two naturals. Her wetlands designs for the Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility in Petaluma, California, Endangered Garden Water Treatment Facility in San Francisco, and Fair Park Lagoon in Dallas turned water-treatment projects into stunning nature parks.

“Johanson,” we wrote in that first issue of The Rock, “is known throughout the world for creating innovative designs that combine the industrial and imaginary in a way that—magically, through some eyes—turns wastewater and public works projects into their very opposites: realms of colorful, childlike joy and wonder that attract rather than repel.”

Johanson single-handedly tore down the chain-link-fence-around-a-rectangle concept of public works. She creates curves, walkways and waterways that dramatically enhance and utilize natural environments rather than disrupt them. Her designs bring people closer to nature rather than fence them out.

Now, after years of wrangling, Johanson is about to break ground on Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City. She could have been, should have been the co-designer of the Los Osos water reclamation plant. Her project would cost far less than MWH ditches and would have actually increased property values in Los Osos, putting Los Osos on the map with a project that seamlessly marries Los Osos’ unique estuary environment with a natural, sculptured water-recycling system. A Johanson project would also fill a need for a park that Los Osos has never had. But politics and agendas took their toll as it always has in Los Osos.

Los Osos wasn’t totally unfamiliar to Johanson. She had worked on Petaluma and wanted to bring in engineer Bob Gearhart, who did Arcada. Gearhart, coincidentally, had tried to penetrate the Los Osos sewer maze at one time and was “chased out of town” like so many other professionals. Nor was Los Osos unfamiliar with Johanson. Los Osos district engineer Rob Miller knew Johanson’s reputation, and Miller, who once said that bringing a ponding system to Los Osos was one of his career goals, held her in the highest regard. Miller was one of the few who jumped at the chance to meet with Johanson when she stayed for a night at the Back Bay Inn in Baywood Park on February 24, 2006.

While she was in Los Osos Johanson asked to meet with the town leaders, and we introduced her to then-town boss Gail McPherson and LOCSD board member Julie Tacker. McPherson later claimed she had met both Johanson and Gearhart previously, yet Johanson said she had never met McPherson before. Johanson and McPherson spent about an hour together but, unfortunately, McPherson didn’t follow up with Johanson. Tacker took The Rock staff and Johanson on a quick tour of out of town sites, including the Gorby property, which was not any list of out of town sites up for consideration at that time.

We even invited Pandora Nash-Karner, who once supported a ponding system for Tri-W, to meet Johanson, but she declined.

A week after Johanson’s visit Pam called McPherson about Johanson and McPherson said “it’s too early.” A few weeks passed, and another call to McPherson, who said “it’s too late.” Her “it’s too early, now it’s too late” routine is one of her most familiar tap dances.

Going directly to the County, we loaned Public Works Director Paavo Ogren a copy of Johanson’s book, and Ogren said they might be able to use Johanson at the end of the project. When he was asked for the book back, Ogren failed to return it as promised, and Pam teased Ogren by telling him, “If you had returned Johanson’s book like you were supposed to, we wouldn’t have filed our Proposition 218 lawsuit.” For a second Ogren thought she might be serious. Pam figured he tossed the book and any idea of working with Johanson in Los Osos in the trash. Why? He obviously had every intention of giving the work to his friends and cronies.

With today’s simultaneous water crisis and economic crisis in California, it should be mandatory that California governmental agencies such as the State and Regional Water Boards and Coastal Commission compare overpriced, out-dated conventional wastewater projects to Johanson’s vastly more economical and ecological public works designs—along with other viable alternatives with a proven track record–on a co-equal basis.

The public is not being served by the government-industrial complex that is San Luis Obispo County and global construction giant MWH America Inc. MWH projects lack everything Patricia Johanson brings to wastewater projects: environmental integrity, creative design and landscaping, wetlands water reclamation and dramatic cost savings.

As large as MWH is, as great as their reach, the best choice to co-design the Los Osos water recycling facility is still Patricia Johanson, who like so many others was tossed aside by Los Osos and County leadership—because of the big money to be made on the MWH megasewer by those in power, and their need to control the rich future of Los Osos to preserve their personal agendas and financial interests.

It is not acceptable to the taxpayers that the largest companies that only do the most expensive, out-dated systems get all the work simply because they always have. What policy dictates that public waste on such a massive scale must continue, especially when the state appears so desperate to identify and cut wasteful spending? California needs to be the leader in green, innovative technology, not the leader in rewarding the giants of costly old technologies that dominate the field.

Paavo Ogren says no contract with troubled MWH, which has been accused of bid-rigging and false billing in Los Osos, has been signed… yet. He didn’t mention whether it was a done deal anyway and that’s all that was left to be done, sign the papers. There’s still time for Ogr
en to bring in Patricia Johanson.

Click on the link to see who and what Los Osos had in its hands. http://www.youtube.com/user/ecoartspace#p/a/u/1/oZWJSyuzHBQ

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