Members of Congress Call for Halt of Seismic Airguns in the Atlantic


Thirty-one members of the House of Representatives, led by Mark Sanford (R-SC) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), sent a letter today requesting a halt to seismic airgun exploration in the Atlantic Ocean. The letter asks for updated environmental review that takes into account, among other factors, the true impacts to endangered whales and fisheries caused by seismic airgun surveys.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently announced that four applications from seismic companies seeking permission to cause harm to marine mammals are now complete. Testing could begin in a matter of months. But a growing coalition agrees: barreling ahead with underwater explosions to search for oil in the Atlantic Ocean does not make sense.

North Atlantic Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis) Credit: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Seismic airgun exploration--blasting high-powered airguns in the water about every ten seconds for weeks and months on end--injures our already beleaguered endangered whales and commercial fish. "Along the Atlantic coast, nearly 1.4 million jobs and more than $95 billion in GDP rely on healthy ocean ecosystems," the letter points out. These tests would run over more than 90,000 miles of ocean from southern New Jersey to central Florida during the first year alone, and because the private prospecting companies aren't required to share their data, the same stretch of ocean could be exposed to repeat testing, bombarding our last North Atlantic right whales over and over again.

Opposition to seismic airgun testing is mounting. "Close to 90 towns, cities, and counties along the Atlantic coast have passed resolutions opposing seismic testing and/or offshore oil drilling," the letter explains.

Earlier this year, 75 scientists, including some of the world's top marine experts, called on the administration to reverse its decision to permit seismic surveys in the Atlantic because of the potential harm to the region's fish and marine mammal populations.

Why all these seismic surveys? To hunt for oil. Our government should not open up the Atlantic to oil and gas exploration for the first time in 30 years, turning our oceans into a minefield of noise and drilling rigs. Instead, we need to phase out reliance on fossil fuel energy and transition to clean energy. The world has already discovered four times as many fossil fuel reserves as we can afford to burn. In the Atlantic Ocean, we need to keep oil in the ground if we are going to stop the economic, health, and environmental costs of climate change. Stopping seismic in the Atlantic is the first step in that direction. Damaging our oceans in support of a policy that the planet cannot sustain makes no sense at all.

For more information about the impacts of ocean noise, including seismic exploration, on whales check out the recent NRDC and IFAW film "Sonic Sea"