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.
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.