WASHINGTON – Today, the Obama administration released a decision authorizing the use of dynamite-like blasts to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida. While the decision includes limited protections for species like the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which there are less than 500 left worldwide, Oceana says they do not go far enough to combat the threats posed to fisheries, economies and marine mammals.
Oceana campaign director Claire Douglass released the following statement in response to the decision:
“For more than 30 years, the Atlantic coast has been off limits to offshore drilling. Today, our government appears to be folding to the pressure of Big Oil and its big money.
The use of seismic airguns is the first step to expanding dirty and dangerous offshore drilling to the Atlantic Ocean, bringing us one step closer to another disaster like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. During this process, our government will jeopardize the health of large numbers of dolphins and whales as well as commercial and recreational fisheries, tourism and coastal recreation – putting more than 730,000 jobs in the blast zone at risk.
According to the government’s 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. Impacts to marine mammals could include everything from temporary or permanent hearing loss, to disruption of vital behaviors like communicating, feeding, mating, calving and migrating, and masking of biologically important sounds.
The Obama administration has apparently learned nothing from the destruction that similar testing has caused off the coasts of Namibia, Australia and Madagascar, which resulted in declines in tuna catch, decreased productivity of the scallop fishery and melon-headed whales being scared into a shallow lagoon where they later died. They seem to be ignoring the voices of concern and opposition from more than 50 Members of Congress, over 100 scientists, 16 coastal towns, 78 local elected officials, 163 conservation and animal welfare organizations, and commercial and recreational fishing groups.
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 will occur every 10 seconds, for days to weeks at a time. They are 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.
The government has not developed adequate closure areas to protect the migratory corridor and nursery of the right whale, the rarest large whale species. Our government has also failed to consider safer alternative technologies such as marine vibroseis, which is quieter than seismic airguns and has less impact on marine mammals.
We believe that the federal government should reinitiate the environmental review process to include the best available science before determining whether to move forward with permitting this dangerous activity off the East Coast. There’s simply too much at stake.
With today’s decision President Obama is bowing to pressure from Big Oil rather than listening to the thousands of voices calling on him to protect our natural resources and coastal economies.
Instead of deepening our dependence on fossil fuels, the Obama administration should remain committed to developing clean and renewable energy sources such as offshore wind.”
Over the past several months, 16 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, Kill Devil Hills, NC, Manteo, NC, Nags Head, NC, Oak Island, NC, Southport, NC, St. James, NC, Sunset Beach, 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.
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.
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 recently released a new short documentary titled “Drill, Spill, Repeat?” which commemorates the four year anniversary of the BP oil disaster and chronicles the ongoing struggles facing Gulf communities, economies and ecosystems. To learn more about the film and to watch the trailer and full-length video, please visit www.drillspillrepeat.org.
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