Atlantic Seismic Risks Senseless Harm

Hilton Head Island, SC Credit Lee Coursey .jpg

Don't be fooled. Ships crisscrossing the Atlantic--blasting our ocean with seismic airgun explosions for months on end in order to map oil and gas reserves under the seafloor--will harm marine life and open the doors to offshore drilling. Yesterday, an editorial in the Charleston Post and Courier, South Carolina's largest paper, cautioned us not to lose sight of the risks associated with seismic surveys as we battle to fend off offshore drilling.

"Supporters of offshore drilling," the editorial begins, "generally contend that testing is a harmless first step to determine if there are enough oil and gas reserves to justify ending the moratorium on drilling off the Atlantic coast. But serious questions have been raised about whether the use of repeated seismic blasts is really safe for marine life, which constitute a natural and commercial resource."

"Serious questions" is, if anything, an understatement. Municipalities up and down the Atlantic Coast--from Red Bank, NJ to Bonita Springs, FL--have passed resolutions not just opposing offshore drilling but seismic airgun testing, too. They have done so with good reason. As the City of Bonita Springs' resolution explains, "We cannot continue to put our ocean environment, beaches, marine resources and local economies at risk."

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Credit: Lee Coursey, Flickr Commons

And it's not just the coastal cities that have voiced their opposition.

Earlier this year, in a letter to the President, a group of 75 ocean scientists warned that seismic airgun blasting threatens entire populations of whales. It can drive whales to abandon their habitats, go silent, and cease foraging over vast areas, and at shorter distances, can cause permanent hearing loss and injury. And earlier this month, thirty-one members of the House of Representatives, a bipartisan group led by Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), sent a letter asking the administration to halt its plans to allow seismic airgun exploration in the Atlantic Ocean.

Mrytle Beach Credit Carl Dunn.jpg

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Credit: Carl Dunn, Flickr Commons

In Rep. Sanford's home state of South Carolina almost every coastal jurisdiction has spoken out in opposition to both drilling and seismic testing. Seismic and drilling go hand-in-hand. Industry argues that seismic is simply information-gathering. But can we trust industry to search for oil and then not to bend heaven and earth (and spend millions in lobbying dollars) to drill if they find it? Regardless, their proposed, overlapping surveys--more than 90,000 miles of it during the first year alone--risk mass disruption or injury to millions of whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and fish.

As yesterday's editorial asks: "Why conduct potentially harmful tests using seismic blasts if offshore drilling is a bad idea in the first place?" That is right on the mark.

There might be oil under El Capitan in Yosemite or below Yellowstone's Lamar Valley. But we don't let the oil industry operate inside our National Parks. Sometimes you just keep it in the ground.

A serious commitment to keeping drill rigs out of the Atlantic and protecting our already endangered great whales includes putting a stop to the proposed seismic surveys.