WASHINGTON – Today, actor and ocean activist Reid Scott is in Washington, D.C., to urge Congress and the Obama administration to oppose the proposed use of seismic airguns to look for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida. Scott, who is currently appearing in season three of HBO’s Emmy-winning comedy series “VEEP,” was joined by a panel of experts at a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill to discuss the risks associated with this controversial technology, including the threat to fisheries, local economies and marine mammals, like the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.
“Our government plans to turn the Atlantic Ocean into a blast zone,” said Scott. “I’m here to say that the risk is simply too great. We can find better ways to satisfy our growing hunger for energy. We don’t need to threaten our fisheries, our local economies or our marine mammals and we sure as hell don’t need to expand dirty and dangerous offshore drilling.”
Seismic airguns create one of the loudest manmade sounds in the ocean, each 100,000 times more intense than what one would experience if standing near a jet engine. These dynamite-like blasts would occur every 10 seconds, for days to weeks at a time. They are also 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’s (DOI) own estimates, these dynamite-like blasts could injure and possibly kill up to 138,200 marine mammals, while disrupting the necessary activities of millions more.
“The Obama administration must consider the best available science as well as the concerns of citizens and their elected officials along the coasts,” said Jacqueline Savitz, Vice President for U.S. Oceans at Oceana. “Expanding offshore drilling is a dead end solution. We need to find long-term energy solutions that don’t threaten ocean ecosystems. We’ve seen what similar testing has done to fisheries and marine mammals around the world so we know that seismic airguns threaten jobs, while the alternative, clean energy, would create them.”
Recently, fourteen coastal towns have passed local resolutions opposing or voicing concern with the use of seismic airguns along the East Coast (Cape Canaveral, FL, Cocoa Beach, FL, St. Augustine, FL, St. Petersburg, FL, Carolina Beach, NC, Caswell Beach, NC, Manteo, NC, Nags Head, NC, Oak Island, NC, Southport, NC, St. James, NC, Topsail Beach, NC, Bradley Beach, NJ and Red Bank, NJ). An additional 78 local elected officials, 160 conservation and animal welfare organizations as well as The Billfish Foundation and The International Game Fish Association have joined the mounting opposition against their use.
According to State Rep. Pricey Harrison from North Carolina’s 57th District “this isn’t just about stopping offshore drilling; it’s about protecting the more than 730,000 jobs at risk in the blast zone. The oil industry doesn’t seem to care about protecting North Carolina’s fisheries or tourism industries, but I do. Seismic airgun testing and offshore drilling aren’t good for my constituents or anyone that calls the East Coast home.”
One species of particular concern is the North Atlantic right whale, the rarest large whale species, of which there are only approximately 500 left worldwide. Acoustic data from Cornell University’s Bioacoustics Research Program recently found that right whales off the Virginia coast are in the path of proposed seismic airgun use.
In comments to DOI, Oceana has argued that the federal government has not developed adequate closure areas to protect the migratory corridor and nursery of the right whale and has failed to fully consider safer alternative technologies such as marine vibroseis, which is quieter than seismic airguns and may be less harmful to marine mammals.
“Seismic survey signals contain primarily low frequency acoustic energy, and these low frequencies can travel 100s of kilometers through the ocean,” said Dr. Douglas Nowacek, Associate Professor at the Duke University Marine Laboratory. “The noise they produce has been shown to affect the behavior of marine mammals, and given their ability to travel through the marine environment they could disrupt the communication signals of animals such as the endangered North Atlantic right whale even at considerable distances. The effects of seismic signals on fish and other marine life, e.g., turtles, are largely unknown. Careful planning and coordination can, in some cases, be effective in reducing the impacts of surveys.”
In February, more than 100 scientists called on President Obama and his administration to wait on new acoustic guidelines for marine mammals, which are currently in development by the National Marine Fisheries Service. These guidelines are 15 years in the making and aim to provide a better understanding of how marine mammals are impacted by varying levels of manmade sound, as well as demonstrate the measures that are needed to protect them. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and eight additional U.S. senators also sent a letter to DOI Secretary Sally Jewell urging her to hold off on issuing the recent administrative decision until all of the best available science, including these new acoustic guidelines, could be incorporated.
Oceana has also delivered more than 100,000 petitions opposing seismic airguns to the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, as well as more than 50 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, also called on President Obama to stop the use of seismic airguns last year.
For more information about Oceana’s efforts, please visit www.Oceana.org/Seismic.
Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 600,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.