In a House Natural Resources Committee meeting last week, Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey expressed his strong opposition to proposed seismic airgun testing along the Atlantic coast, and even delivered a question on seismic testing from Oceana directly to Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell. Pallone, a senior member of the committee, stated that because he is “staunchly opposed to drilling in the Atlantic,” he is against the proposed seismic airgun testing for oil and gas in the region. Seismic airgun testing, which uses dynamite-like blasts of compressed air to search for fossil fuels under the ocean floor, is the first step towards offshore drilling for oil and gas. A proposed plan for seismic airgun testing will span the Atlantic Ocean from Delaware to Florida.
“Rather than waste the time and money on seismic testing,” Pallone explained, “the Department should be investing in the development and production of clean energy. With that being said, I am troubled by the process that the Department has been taking in developing its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for seismic testing in the Atlantic.”
Before the hearing, Rep. Pallone invited individuals to submit questions via social media, which he would ask Secretary Jewell during the hearing. Oceana asked, “Will the Department of the Interior allow seismic airguns in the Atlantic without new NOAA science on the acoustic impacts to marine mammals?” Congressman Pallone relayed this question to Secretary Jewell in the following way:
“The Department’s draft EIS estimates that 138,500 marine mammals will be injured or killed by this testing over the course of eight years and over 13 million more disturbed,” said Pallone. “Yet, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is currently working on developing new acoustic guidelines for assessing the effects of sound on marine mammals that are likely to increase the current estimates for disturbances to vital behaviors of marine mammals. It would seem that these new guidelines would be very relevant to the final EIS your department is compiling. Since any Final EIS that does not include these new acoustic guidelines would be severely flawed, will you commit to waiting until these new guidelines are published and finalized before issuing a Final EIS on this matter?”
Jewell replied that she did not know about NOAA’s work on new acoustic guidelines but that she would consider Mr. Pallone’s request to postpone the Final EIS after reviewing the matter with her staff. Congressman Pallone pushed Secretary Jewell to get back to him as soon as she is able on whether she will wait to issue a final determination on the seismic testing in the Atlantic until after NOAA issues its new acoustic guidelines.
Congressman Pallone also asked why the impacts of seismic testing had only been investigated for marine mammals, when fish and the fishing industries will also be threatened by the blasts: “Commercial and recreational fishing off the mid- and southeast Atlantic generates $11.8 billion annually and supports 222,000 jobs,” said Pallone. “Meanwhile, airgun noise has been demonstrated to depress catch rates of several commercial fish species by some 40-80 percent. For this reason and others, the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council has formally objected to DOI’s plan to open up the Atlantic to seismic exploration. And yet you haven’t done anything in the Draft EIS to reduce harm from seismic exploration to fish and fisheries. What am I supposed to tell the fishing community in my state?”
Secretary Jewell replied that she was not certain as to why the impact of fisheries was not taken into consideration, but would consider the issue and respond when she had further details.
We applaud Congressman Pallone for his strong and consistent leadership in this fight to stop seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic. Help us stop drilling in the Atlantic before it starts – let’s tell President Obama to reject proposed seismic airgun testing along the Atlantic coast.