The House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources is holding what Oceana is calling a “dog and pony show” on seismic airgun use in the Atlantic Ocean. The hearing, titled “The Science behind Discovery: Seismic Exploration and the Future of the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf,” will not address the environmental and economic risks of seismic airguns, the use of which is currently being considered to look for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor in an area twice the size of California, stretching all the way from Delaware to Florida.
Seismic airguns shoot extremely loud and repeated blasts of sound, each 100,000 times more intense than what one would experience if standing near a jet engine. The government itself expects this testing to injure 138,500 marine mammals like dolphins and whales along the East Coast, with some of them possibly being killed. Estimates include injury to nine critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, of which there are only approximately 500 left worldwide.
In response to the hearing, Oceana released the following statement from campaign director Claire Douglass:
“This hearing can best be described as a political ‘dog and pony show.’ In a hearing about ‘seismic exploration,’ one can only wonder where the wildlife, fisheries and acoustic experts are. This seems to be yet another example of Big Oil trying to hide the real story of the dangers of offshore drilling. Where are the experts to tell us about all the harm that seismic testing and drilling will cause?
Before a decision is made on seismic airgun testing, Congress should know all of the facts. Unfortunately, given the witness list, that does not seem likely to happen at this ‘oversight’ hearing. For example, this hearing will likely not shed light on the fact that the use of seismic airguns threatens marine life and coastal economies along the entire East Coast. In fact, these dynamite-like blasts can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss, which can seriously harm animals that depend on their hearing for critical life-sustaining behaviors such as feeding, mating and communicating.
Additionally, just last month, new acoustic data from Cornell University’s Bioacoustics Research Program found that critically endangered North Atlantic right whales off the Virginia coast are in the path of this proposed seismic airgun activity. Yet these findings have not yet been incorporated into the government’s analysis and we suspect that the silence on these critical findings at this hearing will be deafening.
Lastly, the use of seismic airguns and offshore drilling both pose a serious threat to commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as to tourism and coastal recreation, putting more than 730,000 jobs at risk in the blast zone.
Instead of bringing dirty and dangerous offshore oil drilling to the Atlantic, we should be focusing on developing cleaner, safer energy solutions. With minimal oil reserves and drilling roughly a decade away or more, seismic airguns are an unnecessary insult to whales, dolphins and other marine animals. Drilling in the Atlantic won’t lower gas prices, but it will lead to more oil disasters and more dependence on fossil fuels.
It is time for Congress and the Obama administration to stand up to Big Oil and say ‘no’ to seismic airguns in the Atlantic. Having an expert on wildlife impacts at a hearing like this one is an obvious first step.”
Just this week, leading Democrats on this Committee sent a letter to the Department of the Interior calling for improved offshore drilling safety requirements before considering expansion into new areas like the Atlantic.
In September, Oceana delivered more than 100,000 petitions opposing seismic airguns to Tommy Beaudreau, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, as well as approximately 50 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, have also called on President Obama to stop the use of seismic airguns last year.
Press Release, January 13, 2014; Image: Oceana