The Beacon

Obama Administration Approves Seismic Airgun Use off the Atlantic Coast In Spite of Local Opposition and Threats to Marine Life

A North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species that will be impacted by this decision. (Photo: FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute / Flickr Creative Commons)

For more than 30 years, the Atlantic coast has been off limits to offshore drilling. Today, our government appears to be folding to the pressure of Big Oil and its big money.

This morning, the Obama administration approved the use of dynamite-like blasts to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor in the Atlantic Ocean. The decision opens Delaware through Florida—an area twice the size of California—to these blasts, in spite of the proven threats to marine, mounting local opposition, and risks to fisheries. While the decision includes limited protections for species like the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which there are less than 500 left worldwide, Oceana says they do not go far enough to combat the threats posed to fisheries, economies, and marine mammals.

The use of seismic airguns is the first step to expanding dirty and dangerous offshore drilling to the Atlantic Ocean, bringing us one step closer to another disaster like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. During this process, our government will jeopardize the health of large numbers of dolphins and whales as well as commercial and recreational fisheries, tourism, and coastal recreation—putting more than 730,000 jobs in the blast zone at risk.

According to the government’s own estimates, these dynamite-like blasts could injure and possibly kill up to 138,200 marine mammals, while disrupting the necessary activities of millions more. Impacts to marine mammals could include everything from temporary or permanent hearing loss, to the disruption of vital behaviors like communicating, feeding, mating, calving, migrating, and masking of biologically important sounds.

Seismic airguns create one of the loudest manmade sounds in the ocean, each 100,000 times more intense than what one would experience if standing near a jet engine. These dynamite-like blasts will occur every 10 seconds, for days to weeks at a time. They are loud enough to kill small organisms 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. The current Environmental Impact Statement simply doesn’t protect our nation’s threatened marine life.

With these clear threats to marine life and mounting local opposition in mind, why would the Obama Administration approve this?

It could be because oil companies have millions of dollars to throw around, and they appear to spread lies about mythical funds, jobs, and benefits that will go to coastal communities from oil and gas drilling. But, coastal communities and leaders are smarter than that: Over 100 scientists, 16 coastal towns, 78 local elected officials, 163 conservation and animal welfare organizations, and commercial and recreational fishing groups have already voiced opposition to this.

The Obama Administration has not developed adequate closure areas to protect the migratory corridor and nursery of the right whale, the rarest large whale species. They have also failed to consider safer alternative technologies such as marine vibroseis, which has less of an impact on marine mammals.

We believe that the Obama Administration should reinitiate the environmental review process to include the best available science before determining whether to move forward with permitting this dangerous activity off the East Coast. There’s simply too much at stake. 

This decision is just the first battle in the war against seismic. As more towns voice their opposition towards seismic, Oceana will continue to fight this every step of the way.

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 more than 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.

Oceana recently released a new short documentary titled “Drill, Spill, Repeat?” which highlights the dangers of offshore drilling to marine life, human health, and local economies. To learn more about the film and to watch the trailer and full-length video, please visit www.drillspillrepeat.org, or learn more about Oceana’s efforts to stop seismic airgun blasting here. You can also sign this petition to tell President Obama that the fight against seismic isn't over.


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