Letter: New Evidence Shows Government Grossly Underestimated Risks of Atlantic Oil and Gas Exploration

Last year the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued an environmental analysis that would open the east coast, from the New Jersey/ Delaware border down through central Florida, to seismic airgun surveys. As we've written before, these surveys are what the offshore industry uses to prospect for oil and gas: blasting high-powered airguns into the water about every ten seconds for weeks and months on end, with far-reaching impacts on marine wildlife.

This morning, in a 12-page letter, NRDC alerted the agency to significant new information that calls last year's study into serious doubt and urged the agency to undertake a new analysis.

Earlier this year, the government's own CetMap program produced new density models for whales, dolphins, and porpoises. The models show that most of these species are present within the exploration area in far greater concentrations than BOEM had anticipated. In addition, the standard BOEM used to assess impacts is now considered to contravene the best available science, according to a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment last month.

How many marine mammals are in the water and at what point are they impacted--these questions are as fundamental as they come. And taken together, the new science indicates not only that the agency got its answers wrong, but that it grossly underestimated the scale of impacts, possibly by orders of magnitude.

The government's analysis proved highly controversial when it appeared, and not just among environmentalists. A group of 75 scientists, including some of the country's leading marine biologists and bioacousticans, issued a statement concluding that airgun impacts on east-coast marine mammal and fish populations were likely to be "significant, long-lasting, and widespread," contrary to the agency's assertions. They called on the President to withdraw the agency's analysis. The science represented in today's letter only gives more reason for concern.

NRDC has urged BOEM to halt its plans to permit airgun surveys in the Atlantic until it completes a supplemental impact analysis. The letter was joined by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Southern Environmental Law Center, Oceana, the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, Wildlife Conservation Society, and numerous other national and regional organizations.


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