Blog Tags: Seismic Airgun Testing
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.
Oceana’s climate and energy campaign had an eventful April. In our ongoing effort to stop East Coast offshore drilling before it starts, we’ve 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’ 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.
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.”
Every spring, the Nautica South Beach Triathlon gives us reason to smile. There’s the energetic crowds, the celebrity entrants, and the warm-but-not-too-brutally-hot April weather on Miami Beach. This year, however, in Oceana’s 5th year participating through our partnership with Nautica, our grins got even bigger as we set a pair of performance records where it matters most: raising funds for our conservation work.
Team Oceana, comprised of seven passionate ocean advocates, nearly doubled its previous fundraising record at the race, raising $7,171, while our partners at Nautica raised another $20,000 for Oceana by donating 100% of proceeds generated from their beachside shop. That’s $27,000 raised in one weekend, which will go a long way toward improving the condition of the oceans around South Florida, the country, and the world
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.
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.
Yesterday the California Coastal Commission rejected a proposal by Pacific Gas and Electric to conduct high-energy seismic testing in the ocean surrounding the Diablo Canyon Power Plant near Morro Bay, CA, citing the unacceptable harm such testing would visit upon marine life. The proposal faced massive opposition from a wide coalition of conservation organizations like Oceana and commercial and recreational fishing interests concerned about impacts to fisheries and marine wildlife. This is an important precedent and one that the Department of the Interior should take seriously as it mulls whether to open an enormous expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, from Delaware to Florida, to seismic airgun testing to search for oil and gas deposits.
As initially proposed by Pacific Gas and Electric, the surveys would have entailed blasting 250-decibel pulses of compressed air at the seafloor every fifteen seconds for 9 days. Before the ruling, Pacific Gas and Electric warned that scuba divers in the area could be in danger from the airgun blasts, to say nothing of the fish and marine mammals unfortunate enough to be caught near the testing area. Conservationists and fishermen were concerned that the proposal would damage marine life in the recently designated marine protected areas.
"The proposed tests posed an unacceptable threat to a wide suite of critically important marine life including endangered whales, not to mention untold damage throughout the ocean food chain" said Geoff Shester, Oceana California Program Director after the ruling. "The Commisson’s decision sends a strong signal that this type of seismic testing is simply incompatible with the protection of valuable marine resources."
But the rejected Diablo Canyon proposal pales in comparison to what is currently being planned in the Atlantic where, by the federal government’s own estimate, 138,500 whales and dolphins would be injured by seismic airgun testing for fossil fuels. The Atlantic plan has drawn the hackles of more than just environmentalists. The fishing community is rightfully concerned about the effect such testing would have on their $12 billion industry, having seen fish stocks vanish elsewhere seismic testing has taken place.
All of this just to prolong the dubious legacy of offshore drilling. As Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless wrote in a Politico op-ed, ramped up domestic production of fossil fuels will not lead to cheaper prices at the pump (gas prices are set on the global market).
California made the right decision. Let the Department of the Interior know you want them to make the right decision too. Add your photo to our facebook petition and spread the word.
Editor’s note: This blog by actress and environmentalist Victoria Principal was originally posted at NRDC’s OnEarth blog.
I’ve been fascinated with marine life like whales and dolphins since I was a kid. Their grace and power, their beauty and intelligence, their joy and their song -- they are truly special creatures.
Now, as an adult, I feel a responsibility to do all I can to help protect ocean wildlife from environmental risks … like the latest threat posed by oil companies dead set on seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean.
In case you haven’t heard, for the first time in 30 years the U.S. government plans to open up the Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Delaware to high-intensity seismic exploration for offshore oil and gas.
It's a disaster waiting to happen. After the BP oil spill I teamed up with NRDC and Oceana to help protect the ocean from further tragedy. In an effort to stop these seismic testing plans from happening, we’ve created a Facebook photo petition urging the Secretary of Interior to abandon this plan. Please “sign” the petition by adding your Facebook profile photo!
Add your picture to our Facebook photo petition urging the Department of the Interior to abandon the proposal to allow seismic testing in the Atlantic that could injure hundreds of thousands of whales and dolphins!
Not only is seismic testing the gateway to drilling off our coasts, it represents in itself a major assault on our oceans, with widespread harm to ocean wildlife like whales, dolphins and fish. Seismic testing in the Atlantic would expose ocean wildlife to constant dynamite-like blasts about every 10 seconds, 24-hours a day, for weeks and months on end. Even the government admits it could injure up to 138,500 marine mammals and disrupt marine mammal feeding, calving, breeding, and other vital activities more than 13.5 million times.
And because of the enormous distance sound can travel in the ocean, the noise from seismic testing can stretch many hundreds of miles and drive whales to abandon their habitats, go silent, and cease foraging over vast areas of ocean. At shorter distances, it can cause permanent hearing loss, injury, and death.
It would also harm our multi-billion dollar fishing, tourism, and recreational industries that support hundreds of thousands of American jobs. All of this just to make it easier for oil companies to find new sites in our oceans for offshore drilling.
And that just breaks my heart.
The upside though is that we can do something about it. If enough people add their photo to the petition, the Secretary of the Interior will have to take notice. It’s not too late to turn this thing around.
If you’re not on Facebook, you can also sign our traditional-style petition here. Every signature counts!
Yesterday Oceana and its supporters braved foul weather to protest a truly foul idea. Armed with airhorns and megaphones they gave the Department of the Interior (DOI) a tiny preview of what is in store for the ocean’s inhabitants should the Department allow seismic airgun testing to go forward in the Atlantic Ocean.
The DOI is currently reviewing a proposal to use seismic airguns to search for pockets of oil and gas in a huge expanse of ocean from Delaware to Florida. The effects of these round-the-clock tests, which will run for days on end with dynamite-like blasts firing at 10 second intervals, will be devastating to marine mammals and fish alike.
As Oceana marine scientist Matthew Huelsenbeck said at the event:
“There is only one word that I can use that sums up this proposal: unacceptable. The levels of impacts to protected dolphins and whales, including critically endangered species like the North Atlantic right whale are simply unacceptable.”
- Obama Administration Approves Seismic Airgun Use off the Atlantic Coast In Spite of Local Opposition and Threats to Marine Life Posted Fri, July 18, 2014
- Setback for Shark Conservation: Hammerhead Sharks Denied Protection under Endangered Species Act Posted Tue, July 15, 2014
- Ocean News: Green Sea Turtle Makes Longest Migration Ever Recorded, Small Oil Spill Found off of Italy, and More Posted Mon, July 21, 2014
- Oceana Urges Stakeholders to Rebuild Chile's Fisheries at International Seminar Posted Tue, July 15, 2014
- North Atlantic Great White Sharks are Rebounding, but that’s Not the Case for All Species Posted Mon, July 21, 2014