The Department of Interior announced yesterday that it's moving forward to open offshore oil and gas exploration off our Mid- and South Atlantic coastline.
To determine where it's best to drill, oil companies first use dangerous high-pressure air guns and other seismic exploration methods up and down the Atlantic coast.
Imagine blasting dynamite in a neighborhood every 10-12 seconds for weeks or months on end. Now imagine that you can't see, and depend on your hearing to feed, communicate and just about everything else you need for survival. That's the situation whales, fish, and other marine wildlife are facing.
"Today's announcement is great for petroleum companies, but horrible news for our coastlines and a potentially deadly blow to ocean fisheries and wildlife. It's yet another reason why we need to break our dangerous addiction to oil-not find more ways to feed that addiction," says Frances Beinecke, President of Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Michael Jasny, Senior Policy Analyst for NRDC says:
Airgun noise is loud enough to mask whale calls over literally thousands of miles, destroying their capacity to communicate and breed. It can drive whales to abandon their habitat and cease foraging, again over vast areas of ocean; closer in, it can cause hearing loss and death. The latest science from NOAA and Cornell shows that endangered North Atlantic right whales - which calve off the coast of Georgia and Florida - are especially vulnerable.
And the concern isn't just about whales. For years, fishermen in other parts of the world have complained about loss of catch when seismic comes around - and for good reason. Norwegian researchers have shown that airguns dramatically depress catch rates in commercial fish by as much as 40-80%, depending on the fishing method. Again the impact area can be huge: roughly the size of Rhode Island for a single seismic survey.
Green technologies that would substantially cut the environmental footprint of airguns in many areas can be available for commercial use in 3-5 years or less. Yet the administration is opening the floodgates now, in areas it doesn't even intend to consider for leasing until 2017. Industry has already applied to run hundreds of thousands of miles of trackline from Delaware south through Florida, blasting all the way.
We can't boom-and-drill our way to lower gas prices. But we can destroy our oceans trying.
In coming months, the Department of Interior will hold public hearings on this issue.
Last November, President Obama announced his 5-year plan for offshore drilling. It's hard to understand why this seismic exploration is necessary given that his plan says the Pacific and Atlantic coasts would be off-limits to drilling.
The plan satisfies neither the GOP - which wants much more widespread drilling - or the environmental community - which points to the Gulf spill as evidence that there is no safe offshore drilling in deep waters.