The Beacon

Outcry of Opposition Grows towards Seismic Airgun Approval along the East Coast

Oil rig off the coast of southeastern Louisiana. (Photo: Oceana / Eduardo Sorensen)

The public outcry of opposition towards seismic airgun testing has only continued to grow since the Obama administration approved seismic airgun testing along the East Coast earlier this month. Last week, Members of Congress representing Maryland and states from Virgina to Georgia—states that form the majority blast zone—wrote two letters to President Obama and urged him to prevent such testing. With the addition of these letters, 27 Members of Congress in the blast zone have now written to President Obama since he approved seismic airgun testing, and expressed their disapproval of the President’s decision.

“The President’s decision to allow seismic blasting in the Atlantic has only fueled the fire of opposition,” Oceana campaign director Claire Douglass said in a press release. “This is no longer just a debate over the risks and benefits of seismic airguns; it’s a fight to protect the East Coast and the marine life, people and communities that call it home.”

U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) led one letter, while Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) led the second one. They’re not the first Members of Congress to take action: Eleven Members of Congress from Florida wrote to President Obama on the day he approved seismic testing and urged him to reverse his decision. In Early July, Deleware’s only  Representative John Carney sent a similar letter earlier in the month.

Oceana believes that local opposition to seismic airguns could not be more evident. Eighteen coastal towns have already passed local resolutions opposing or voicing concern with their use, and 78 local elected officials, 160 conservation and animal welfare organizations, The Billfish Foundation, The International Game Fish Association, and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council have all publically opposed seismic airguns. Oceana has also delivered more than 100,000 petitions opposing seismic airguns to the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

“The Obama administration seems to be ignoring the voices from the frontline,” Douglass said. “Anyone that could possibly be impacted is speaking out against turning the Atlantic Ocean into a blast zone, including Members of Congress, scientists, coastal communities, local elected officials, citizens, conservation and animal welfare organizations, and commercial and recreational fishing groups.”

Seismic airguns create one of the loudest manmade sounds in the ocean, each thousands of times more intense than what one would experience if standing near a jet engine. The dynamite-like blasts occur every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for days to weeks at a time. Seismic airguns 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.

Impacts to marine mammals from seismic airgun blasts can include temporary or permanent hearing loss, disruption of vital behaviors like communicating, feeding, mating, calving and migrating, and masking of biologically important sounds. According to the Department of the Interior (DOI), these dynamite-like blasts could injure and possibly kill up to 138,200 marine mammals, while disrupting the necessary activities of millions more. Similar testing off the coasts of Namibia and Australia has resulted in declines in tuna catch and decreased productivity of the scallop fishery.

It’s not just ocean animals that would be affected by this testing. In fact, seismic airgun testing puts 815,000 jobs in the tourism and recreational and commercial fishing industries in states along the blast zone at risk. 

To learn more about Oceana’s efforts to stop seismic airgun testing and protect the Atlantic Ocean, click here.  


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