Oceana‚Äôs climate and energy campaign had an eventful April. In our ongoing effort to stop East Coast offshore drilling before it starts, we‚Äôve been working hard to prevent the oil industry from taking the first step toward drilling: seismic airguns to explore for oil.
The specifics of seismic airgun testing are worth understanding if only because the oil industry seems to be counting on Americans‚Äô lack of knowledge about this highly specific technology in order to get a foothold in some ocean areas that have been protected from drilling since the Reagan administration.
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‚Äôs 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.
On Thursday BP and the Coast Guard took a stealthy cruise in the Gulf of Mexico to look for oil leaking from the site of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. That‚Äôs right, two and a half years after the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, oil is still leaking near the infamous Macondo well. A miles-long oil sheen was spotted 50 miles off the Louisiana coast in September.
And, reminiscent of the early days of the disaster, BP is again not making the scope of the problem clear, according to Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA.) who, along with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), has repeatedly asked BP for underwater video and information regarding the size of the slicks. BP has denied those requests citing ongoing litigation.
"Back in 2010, I said BP was either lying or incompetent. Well, it turns out they were both,‚ÄĚ said Markey. ‚ÄúThis is the same crime scene, and the American public today is entitled to the same information that BP was lying about in 2010 so that we can understand the full dimension of the additional environmental damage."
Last month, BP settled its criminal penalties with the federal government for $4.5 billion. This settlement was a fraction of what it could have been, and Oceana has determined that BP still rightfully owes the American taxpayer as much as $50 billion for additional violations of the law and for the devastation wrought by the 2010 spill.
Now BP faces civil charges and potentially tens of billions of dollars in natural resource damages. If the Justice Department is truly serious about holding BP accountable for its actions in the Gulf, it should pursue those charges in full.
In the meantime, BP needs to make sure crude oil stops leaking into this sensitive ecosystem and most of all it needs to level with the public about what is happening in the Gulf.
For the past three years, whales and dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico have been undergoing what the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is calling an ‚Äúunusual mortality event‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒthat is, they have been stranding and dying off by the hundreds (817 in all), and no one knows why. The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe provides a likely explanation, but, in fact, 114 marine mammals died in 2010 even before the devastation of the oil spill had even begun.
It could have something to do with a bacterial infection, known as brucellosis, revealed in some animal necropsies, or it could be related to environmental degradation, climate change, fishing activity, or the cumulative effects of all these combined stressors. Or, it could largely be a natural phenomenon merely exacerbated by anthropogenic impacts (though unlikely). It is truly a mystery.
What is less mysterious is the cause of death for three of the most recent dolphin victims. In the past six months, two bottlenose dolphins washed ashore, one in Louisiana and one in Mississippi, with gunshot wounds to their heads. In Alabama, another live dolphin was discovered stabbed in the head with a screwdriver. Though it initially survived this brutality, the dolphin eventually succumbed to its injuries and died. NOAA is currently investigating these cases and asks anyone with any information to call their Office of Law Enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964. Penalties under the Marine Mammal Protection Act range up to $100,000 in fines and up to one year in jail per violation.
The impacts of the Deepwater Horizon are being felt in -- you guessed it -- Minnesota.
White pelicans that winter in the Gulf of Mexico and have lived in an oiled Gulf have migrated to far away places such as Minnesota to lay eggs, and the contaminants inside them have traveled as well.
Preliminary testing by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shows that petroleum compounds were present in 90 percent of the first batch of eggs tested and nearly 80 percent of the eggs contained the chemical dispersant used during the spill, called COREXIT.
The contamination of white pelican eggs is a bad sign for the developing embryos and potentially their populations. The researchers will be continuing to monitor impacts on the population for years to come, and the true impacts may not be realized for decades.
Mark Clark, a researcher helping with these studies, says, ‚ÄúAny contaminant that makes its way into the bird could be bad, but it could be especially bad if it gets into the egg because that's where the developing embryo and chick starts. And when things go wrong at that stage, there's usually no recovery."
The immediate loss of pelicans and other birds that were covered in oil during the spill was amazingly disheartening and graphic. But these types of sub-lethal impacts show how the next generation may be affected.
While these effects are less noticeable, they are even more concerning for the future of the population. Nearly half of all the bird species that live in the United States spend at least part of the winter in the Gulf of Mexico, and the health of the Gulf is globally significant for birds.
After the Exxon Valdez spill, more than 88% of the birds that were found dead were outside of Prince William Sound, the area immediately affected by the spill, and the number of dead birds found was only a fraction of the total killed by the spill.
The combination of those direct losses, poor reproductive success and changes in the habitat, has prevented some species from recovering, even 20 years later. Although we don‚Äôt yet know the long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill, these contaminants in eggs serve as a warning sign of things to come.
We need to make sure that BP and the other responsible parties are held accountable for the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill that have likely impacted hundreds to thousands of species.
Even more importantly we need to recognize that these contaminated eggs, and the ongoing damages to wildlife, are part of the overall problem with offshore drilling and spilling. We have much better options for energy, such as offshore wind, and we should use them.
Today marks the second anniversary of the Gulf oil spill. Oil has long stopped flowing from the leaking rig, but that doesn‚Äôt mean the disaster is over. Local fishermen have been making some off-putting discoveries: nets full of eyeless shrimp, clusters of clawless crabs, and more.
Oil and the dispersants used to break it up are making it into the food chain, which could account for some of these deformities. Al Jazeera has been interviewing people involved in the Gulf seafood business and published the disturbing results of those interviews today.
One fisher told them she is finding crabs "with holes in their shells, shells with all the points burned off so all the spikes on their shells and claws are gone, misshapen shells, and crabs that are dying from within ‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
Another said that shrimp numbers have dropped dramatically, and that they see shrimp with tumors on their heads every day. Louisiana fishers have pulled up entire nets of eyeless shrimp. Some crabs have soft or misshapen shells. Fish and shrimp have tumors and lesions.
Such deformities happened even before the spill, but the high number of diseased and deformed animals being found after the spill shock both fishers and scientists. In some areas after the spill, a startling 50% of fish have these lesions.
One scientist said he thought the issues could be traced to chronic exposure to PAHs [a compound found in crude oil] released in the process of weathering oil.
And it‚Äôs not just fish that have been affected by oil. Gulf dolphins have been found sick and dead, and the numbers of dolphin carcasses found is likely only a fraction of the total amount of dolphins that were killed by the oil.
The sad state of sea life in the Gulf proves that even long after oil is gone from sight, it is still dangerous. It will take decades for the Gulf to recover from this accident. In the meantime, we here at Oceana are working hard to push for safer energy sources and keep oil drills out of our waters.
Please visit our Stop the Drill page to sign a petition for clean energy and learn more about the dangers of offshore drilling.
Friday will mark two years since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, causing the worst accidental oil spill in history. One would hope that an accident like this would lead to monumental changes in safety regulations, but sadly that is not the case.
Today, we released a report card that grades the failures of the United States government and the oil and gas industry after the oil spill.
‚ÄúPolitics continues to triumph over common sense. It‚Äôs outrageous that so little progress has been made to make offshore drilling safer,‚ÄĚ said Jacqueline Savitz, our senior campaign director. ‚ÄúIt appears that the government has done little more than require actions that were already being done voluntarily, even on the ill-fated rig ‚Äď it‚Äôs as if they are letting the industry regulate itself.‚ÄĚ
We gave the grades based on how well the government and industry followed recommendations they were given after the spill. They received ‚ÄúF‚ÄĚ grades in most of the categories, but in three instances the government did make small but ultimately unsatisfactory efforts, earning ‚ÄúD‚ÄĚ grades.
Overall, ‚Äúboth industry and government get ‚ÄėF‚Äôs‚Äô,‚ÄĚ Savitz said. ‚ÄúWithout stronger regulations, and better inspection and enforcement, oil companies will continue to put profits over safety and there will be more problems. It‚Äôs not a matter of whether there will be another oil spill, but when.‚ÄĚ
For more information about Oceana‚Äôs campaign to stop new offshore drilling, please visit www.stopthedrill.org.
Even more sad news from the Gulf of Mexico, but this time it runs a mile deep. A new study confirms that the oil that likely caused deepwater coral sickness indeed came from the largest accidental oil spill in history, the Deepwater Horizon.
Back in June 2010, deep-sea coral communities showed signs of severe stress and tissue damage after being covered with heavy mucous and brown flocculent material which was believed to be caused by the spill. This type of ill-health in deep sea corals had never before been documented during deep sea research.
The lead author, Helen White from Haverford College, stated, ‚ÄúWe would not expect deep-water corals to be impacted from a typical oil spill, but the sheer magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its release at depth makes it very different than a tanker running aground and spilling its contents.‚ÄĚ
Deepwater corals can live hundreds of years, and they serve as hot beds for marine biodiversity. The deepwater coral communities are habitat for crabs, shrimp, brittlestars and commercially important fish species like red snapper and grouper. These corals can take a long time to recover from damage and in comparison this would be similar to clear cutting patches of ancient redwood forests in California.
These results are startling in that they show for the first time how harmful deepwater oil drilling is to distant ecosystems even though they are separated from humans by more than 4,000 feet of water. These ancient deepwater corals were likely already living long before the first oil rigs entered the Gulf of Mexico. If we protect them from more drilling and more spilling they could thrive in a world that moves away from oil to smarter and safer sources of energy, like offshore wind.
Oceana is doing its part by filing a legal challenge against new lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico. We do not believe that the government has adequately studied the potential impacts of new drilling or the true extent of the biological impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. These include the deepwater corals and so many other species that live in the Gulf.
It is also clear that safety measures have not improved to an adequate level. We need your support to continue our efforts to stop offshore drilling and protect important deep sea habitats, dolphins and the thousands of species that are still struggling from oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico. Go to stopthedrill.org to get involved.
Gas has been leaking into the United Kingdom‚Äôs North Sea for three days, after an attempt to close an underwater oil well caused a blowout.
Oil drilling accidents happen more often than you might think. Smaller spills and leaks don‚Äôt usually make the news, although they can still affect the local environment. And this is why offshore drilling is so dangerous‚ÄĒit‚Äôs even harder to contain a leak when it‚Äôs underwater.
In this case, there is not much that can be done for the time being. The actual well is plugged, but the highly-pressurized gas (a light crude oil called condensate) is coming from a reservoir close to the surface. It‚Äôs possible the leak might close itself within a few days. But if it doesn‚Äôt, the only way to resolve it will be to drill a relief well, which will take six months. If that sounds familiar, it‚Äôs because that‚Äôs how the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico was eventually resolved.
The comparisons don‚Äôt end there. Jake Molloy, regional organizer for RMT union, also compared the two accidents: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs unprecedented. High pressure gas flowing from a well with no means of preventing it. We are in the realm of the unknown, comparable to the Deepwater Horizon.‚ÄĚ
This leak will not have the same scope of destruction as the Gulf leak, since the condensate is thin and will hopefully evaporate. But after two days, there was already a sheen of condensate two miles long in the North Sea. A vapor cloud is visible rising from the rig, and the area has been evacuated out of fear of an explosion.
Accidents occur everywhere we drill, and there is no way to safeguard the environment from the effects of oil. Shell is currently on its way to begin drilling in the Arctic, far from civilization. If a spill occurs there, the story could be even worse. Join us in calling on President Obama to protect the Arctic environment and all the animals that call it home.
Last week the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council released a report about offshore drilling safety, and I bet you can guess what it shows: Deepwater drilling isn‚Äôt safe.
The report echoes many conclusions from previous reports on the Deepwater Horizon disaster, including Oceana‚Äôs report, "False Sense of Safety," and presents a solid set of recommendations that the government can use to make offshore drilling safer.
A few of the report‚Äôs conclusions paint a particularly stark picture of the continued dangers of offshore drilling.
The report, titled "Macondo Well-Deepwater Horizon Blowout: Lessons for Improving Offshore Drilling Safety," concludes as others have that blowout preventers, or BOPs ‚Äď the last line of defense against blowouts and spills ‚Äď are not designed to function correctly in deepwater drilling and so cannot be relied on. In the words of the report:
‚Äúthe BOP system at the Macondo well [had] a number of deficiencies... that are indicative of deficiencies in the design process... [that] also may be present for BOP systems deployed for other deepwater drilling operations‚ÄĚ (pg. 54).
But design is not their only problem; the report says testing is woefully inadequate as well. To fix these problems, the report calls for the redesign and improved testing of BOPs. In the meantime, deepwater drilling should be suspended, since BOPs cannot be relied upon for protection against spills.