Seismic testing proposed for Atlantic and mid-Atlantic coastlines

Last month when the Trump Administration said it would change directions and include the Atlantic coastline (and the mid-Atlantic which includes Georgia and South Carolina) for possible offshore oil lease sales, environmental groups warned something else would soon follow.  Seismic testing.  This week, they were proven right when the National Marine Fisheries Service announced that it is considering permits for five oil and gas companies to do the testing up and down the coastline.Last month when the Trump Administration said it would change directions and include the Atlantic coastline (and the mid-Atlantic which includes Georgia and South Carolina) for possible offshore oil lease sales, environmental groups warned something else would soon follow.  Seismic testing.  This week, they were proven right when the National Marine Fisheries Service announced that it is considering permits for five oil and gas companies to do the testing up and down the coastline.

The testing involves using industrial size air guns to try to locate oil or gas deposits in the water. “Imagine dynamite going off in your neighborhood not just once but every ten seconds for days and weeks and months.  Now imagine that you can’t see, that you depend on your hearing for just about everything to find food, to interact.  That’s what it’s like for marine mammals and other species when seismic ships pound the ocean,” says Michael Jasny from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Jasny says the ocean is a world of sound, not sight and that the testing can harm marine life, especially endangered whales. “Seismic guns are disruptive enough to silence species over literally tens of thousands of square miles, to drive them from their habitat to disrupt their feeding and breeding,” he said. 

Jasny said fishing alliances up and down the Atlantic are also against the testing because the blasting can cause fish populations to leave. “For some fisheries,it’s meant losses in catch of 40 to 80 percent over areas the size of small states,” he said.

Rick Baumann from Murrells Seafood in South Carolina says his industry is already struggling to survive. He also says the fishing industry is required to follow guidelines to preserve fish populations. “So why would the government even think about allowing the filthy and accident prone oil business to proceed with this dangerous procedure that so greatly affects the wild life we strive to protect,” he asks. “It should be obvious to anyone who looks at this issue seriously that seismic blasting and offshore drilling are a real threat to our way of life.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service website says seismic testing may “incidentally but not intentionally” hurt marine mammals.  The website also said continuing the process (of finding out if offshore oil drilling will happen) is “consistent with President Trump’s America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.  It says the government is accepting public comments on the possibility of granting the seismic testing permits until July 7.

But Jasny was critical of the government’s testing models and research to determine the safety of the testing.  “So how does the National Marine Fisheries Service justify the five permits? Well, it starts with alternative science -the fisheries service applying a 20 year old standard that it admits is outdated,” he said.  “It pretend that marine life is impacted by seismic testing only within a short distance ignoring the overwhelming science that says otherwise.”

Jasny equated the government’s  stance to surrounding a plant putting out pollutants into the air – with a fence and then saying that the air is affected only within the fence line. “That is nonsense,” he said. “And when it comes to testing, this may only be the beginning, next year we would see more seismic tests.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service website says the following about making comments:

Comments should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. Physical comments should be sent to 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 and electronic comments should be sent to
ITP.Laws@noaa.gov

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