The Beacon: Matt Huelsenbeck's blog
Offshore drilling remains deadly and dangerous years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill devastated the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. The picture above is from a massive explosion on an offshore drilling rig owned by Black Elk Inc., which killed three workers, injured multiple others, and created a large oily sheen on the ocean’s surface in November 2012.
Last week, Oceana partnered with the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) in putting on their annual Offshore WindPower Conference and Exhibition in Providence, Rhode Island. The conference was a complete success and it was clear for any attendee that offshore wind energy, one of the most abundant clean energy resources, is finally starting to take off in the U.S.
The race is on to develop the world’s best ocean pH sensors! A new competition just launched to improve understanding of one of the ocean’s greatest threats, ocean acidification.
XPRIZE, a non-profit that tries to solve grand challenges by incentivizing research and development through prize competitions, launched a new program called the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health Prize, which addresses ocean acidification. The purpose is to design cheaper and better performing pH sensors that can be deployed to ocean habitats all over the world. These sensors are important because we desperately need to know more about how carbon emissions are changing the ocean’s chemistry on a local scale and how this is already harming marine life and fisheries.
Puffins are rightfully dubbed the “clowns of the ocean” from their animated appearance, but sadly, they might instead serve as the “canary in a coal mine” warning us about climate change threats to the ocean.
The ocean is warming up in the Gulf of Maine from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia where ocean temperatures have hit a 150-year high, and these abnormally warm waters are altering marine food webs. Many fish species are moving into deeper and colder waters, and some are being replaced by fish from the south.
The first offshore wind turbine in the U.S. was recently deployed off the coast of Maine. The pilot project uses a floating platform with a small wind turbine affixed to a tower. The project is a small, but significant step toward developing an abundant clean energy resource in the U.S.
For the first time in human history, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels passed 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide at the historic Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This is the same location where Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher Charles David Keeling first established the “Keeling Curve,” a famous graph showing that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are increasing rapidly in the atmosphere. CO2 was around 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution, when humans first began releasing large amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. On May 9, the reading was a startling 400.08 ppm for a 24-hour period. But without the help of the oceans, this number would already be much higher.
The oceans are heating up, and marine ecosystems are changing because of it. Long before climate scientists realized the extent of impacts from carbon dioxide emissions, ocean scientists were taking simple temperature readings. Now those readings are off the charts, showing an ocean thrown out of balance from human-caused climate change. Sea surface temperatures hit a 150 year high off the U.S. East Coast from Maine to North Carolina during 2012.
These abnormally high temperatures are fundamentally altering marine ecosystems, from the abundance of plankton to the movement of fish and whales. Many marine species have specific time periods for spawning, migration, and birthing based on temperature signals and availability of prey. Kevin Friedland, a scientist in NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Ecosystem Assessment Program, said “Changes in ocean temperatures and the timing and strength of spring and fall plankton blooms could affect the biological clocks of many marine species, which spawn at specific times of the year based on environmental cues like water temperature.”
Imagine living next to a construction zone, where every ten seconds, every day, for days to weeks on end, you are subjected to loud, disruptive explosions while you’re trying to eat, sleep and function in your normal routine. If the Department of the Interior approves a proposal to allow seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic, this nightmare could become a reality for the thousands of marine animals that call these waters home. Oceana’s new report “A Deaf Whale is a Dead Whale” illustrates the extremely harmful impacts seismic testing could have on vital animal behaviors, as well as 730,000 jobs along the East Coast that depend on a healthy ocean ecosystem.
Seismic testing occurs when vessels tow airguns that blast compressed air into the ocean floor to search for oil and gas deposits, and these blasts are 100,000 times more intense than the sound of a jet engine. The tests occur continuously every ten seconds, all day, and the government itself estimates it will injure 138,500 whales and dolphins, as well as disrupt and displace thousands of other marine animals like threated loggerhead sea turtles and fish. Due to the loudness of the airgun blasts, whales, dolphins and other animals that depend on their hearing to survive could go temporarily, or even permanently, deaf.
The proposed blasting zone is twice the size of California, spanning from Delaware to Florida. Airguns and future oil spills would put many communities at risk that depend on a healthy ocean, including 200,000 commercial and recreational fishing jobs.
Maryland Governor Martin O’ Malley is standing by his promise to promote offshore wind development by championing the introduction of the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013.
The bill, introduced on January 21st, would be the second law of its kind that promotes offshore wind through the use of offshore wind renewable energy credits (ORECs). The law will require utilities in the state to provide to their ratepayers a certain amount of power generated from offshore wind energy. If passed, this bill will jumpstart a nascent industry and create Maryland-based manufacturing and maritime jobs. It will help spur the development of at least 200 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind off Maryland’s coast, which is enough to power about 200,000 homes with clean energy. And that is just the start.
Yesterday, members of both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate sent letters to President Obama urging him to stop proposed seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic Ocean.
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is currently deciding if seismic airgun testing should be allowed to search for oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of seven states from Delaware to Florida.
This type of seismic testing involves the use of airguns, which are towed behind ships and shoot loud blasts of compressed air at 250 decibels through the water and miles into the seabed to search for deep oil and gas deposits. These airguns make intense pulses of sound, almost as loud as explosives, every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for days to weeks on end. The blasts are so loud and constant that they can injure or disturb vital behaviors in fish, dolphins, whales and sea turtles.
Marine life impacts can include temporary and permanent hearing loss, abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, and even beach strandings and death. If approved, seismic airguns will threaten endangered species, fisheries and coastal economies throughout the Atlantic.
These disruptive airguns are unnecessary and dangerous and here are the top 10 reasons why:
1. Seismic airgun testing is the first step towards deepwater drilling, the same practice that brought us the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in 2010.
2. Seismic airgun testing will injure about 138,500 whales and dolphins, nine of which are North Atlantic right whales, one of the most endangered species on the planet, based on DOI’s own study, which may underestimate the impacts.
3. In Peru in early 2012, 900 dolphins and porpoises washed up on shore dead with physical signs of damage to their ear bones following seismic airgun testing. In 2008 a similar mass die off occurred for dozens of melon-headed whales in Madagascar after testing.
4. Because it displaces fish and can harm fisheries, seismic airgun testing threatens over 200,000 jobs in commercial and recreational fishing.
5. There are less harmful technologies than airguns on the horizon but they are not being considered by DOI.
6. Seismic testing or drilling in the Atlantic would not reduce U.S. gas prices by even a penny.
7. Oil and gas companies already own oil and gas leases on millions of acres of federal lands and waters, many of them are inactive and have not been developed.
8. The burning of oil and gas contributes to global climate change and ocean acidification, so new drilling in the Atlantic is not the solution to our energy challenges.
9. There is no need to conduct seismic airgun testing now, since the administration does not plan to hold oil and gas lease sales in the area until at least 2017.
10. Atlantic offshore wind could supply more jobs and energy than oil and gas in the region.
Learn more about the harmful impacts of seismic airguns and tell the President to protect whales and dolphins in the Atlantic, not drive them away.