Seismic Oil, Gas Search Input Sought; Fear Exists over Marine Life, Tourism

Cape May County Herald

June 9, 2017

By Karen Knight

WASHINGTON – A 30-day public comment period began June 6 on the Trump Administration’s proposal to permit seismic airgun testing along the Atlantic Ocean coast.

Seismic blasting for oil and gas exploration is the first step in a broader plan to subject the Atlantic Ocean and other coastal areas to offshore drilling, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) which held a press conference June 5 to discuss the proposal.

According to Michael Jasny, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project, NRDC, the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) has proposed issuing five permits that would allow the oil and gas industry “to harm whales” while conducting the controversial seismic tests from the New Jersey/Delaware border to Central Florida.

This action follows President Trump’s executive order of April 28 attempting to reverse an order that permanently protects wide swaths of the Atlantic and Arctic Ocean waters from the dangers of offshore drilling. The surveys would take place in federal waters, starting three miles from shore.

“This means that there would be five companies crisscrossing the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast coasts, from the New Jersey/Delaware border to central Florida, logging tens of thousands of miles as they go back and forth over the same areas,” he explained.

“Each ship would troll the water with an array of industrial-sized air guns, whose blasts, as loud as explosions, rock the water every 10 seconds or so for weeks and months on end.

“Next year, we would see still more seismic tests, similarly proposed and approved by the National Marine Fisheries Services, with leasing and drilling likely to follow,” he added. “Think of it in terms of someone setting off dynamite in your neighborhood every 10 seconds. You can’t see to find food, shelter, know if a predator is there and you rely on your hearing.

“This will disrupt our fish and marine life, cause displacement of fish and suppress catches, change habitats, injure and kill fish and invertebrates, impair their development at early life stages and compromise the ability of many marine species to communicate over many hundreds of miles around a single survey,” Jasny added.

Jasny was joined at the press conference by Dr. Doug Nowacek, marine scientist, Duke University, and Rick Baumann, founder, Murrells Inlet Seafood (a family-owned seafood company in South Carolina), who spoke about the potential impacts if the surveys are allowed.

Efforts to reach local representatives at Lund’s Fisheries, Atlantic Capes Fisheries and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries were unsuccessful. Cape May is the second biggest commercial fishing port on the East Coast.

According to Jasny, the Fisheries Service is applying a 20-year old standard that he called “alternative science, that it admits is outdated, pretending that marine life is impacted only within a short distance, ignoring the overwhelming science that says otherwise. And then the Service throws in some creative accounting by treating each survey as though none of the others were taking place so that the impacts are never added.  That’s nonsense,” he said.

“The fact is that seismic blasting, and the drilling that follows, represent a serious threat to the coasts and oceans and the communities who depend on them,” Jasny noted.

“Commercial and recreational fishing off the mid- and southeast Atlantic generate billions of dollars in annual sales and support close to 200,000 jobs.  The tourism economy is responsible for many billions more. It makes no sense to risk these job-intensive industries, our beaches, our marine environment, and our clean-energy future for the sake of big oil.”

When asked about similar activity in the Gulf of Mexico and its impact on marine life, Nowacek said there had not been any studies over the past 25 years to assess the impact. However, there have been changes to numbers of fish and other habitats in the Gulf.

More than 100 municipalities from New Jersey to Florida have adopted resolutions rejecting seismic testing and drilling. More than 40,000 local businesses and business organizations are allied against it, according to Jasny.

The region’s two Fisheries Management Councils have repeatedly objected to it, as have numerous fishers’ associations up and down the Atlantic.

On Capitol Hill, as in the community, the opposition is bipartisan with the leadership shown on both sides of the aisle on both seismic and drilling.

“Coastal businesses, towns, and residents said, “Hell, no,” to the Obama administration when it proposed turning their home into an oil company siphon,” he added.  “And I expect they’ll say, “Hell, no,” to Trump as well.”

Nowacek spoke about the impacts to marine life, particularly whales, dolphins, porpoises and their young.

“The area where most of the surveys would take place is North Carolina, which has the highest density and diversity of marine mammals,” he said.

“There are 11,000 bottle-nosed dolphins in the area where they will focus their efforts. They will be damaged or injured as a result.”

Baumann, who said he has been in the seafood business for over 50 years as a harvester, restaurateur, commercially and retail, said there are entire villages and communities that will be impacted if this proceeds.

“We already have regulations protecting our resources to sustain our profession,” he said. “The oil industry has proven reserves on land, but the current administration is looking to sell half of the reserves. Why would our government allow the oil business to proceed?”

If approved, Jasny said the surveys could take place after this year’s hurricane season ends (Nov. 30).

He urged residents to contact their congressional representatives “and demand that they oppose this terrible plan to blast and drill in the Atlantic.”

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