Trump's New Offshore Oil Giveaway Has Seismic Blasting, Too

Today, Trump reportedly will issue a broad Executive Order that opens up our coasts and oceans to Big Oil. The headlines will be about his attempt to undo prior withdrawals of Arctic and other waters from leasing; about his move to revise the government’s current offshore lease plan, with the aim of making yet more areas available to drilling; and, astonishingly, about his exposure of our National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine National Monuments to some form of “review.” But tucked among these many dismal provisions is a directive on seismic blasting that is the camel’s nose under the tent of Trump’s new offshore regime.

Seismic blasting, as many know, is the great precursor to drilling. It involves trolling the ocean with arrays of industrial-sized airguns, whose blasts—as powerful as explosions—rock the water every ten seconds or so for weeks and months on end. The sound is used to map oil and gas deposits miles beneath the ocean floor. Yet it also spreads widely over hundreds of miles, making life difficult or inhospitable for life in the sea.

The Trump order apparently directs two federal agencies, the Interior and Commerce Departments, to “streamline” permitting for seismic blasting under existing law. You may translate that from Trump-speak as “cutting corners” or “rushing review” or what you will. The clear intent is to open more of our oceans to this destructive practice.

At the moment, four industry proposals to crisscross the mid-Atlantic and southeast coasts with some 78,000 miles of seismic line—repeatedly subjecting the same areas to harm—are pending at the Commerce Department. That’s 78,000 miles during the first year of activity alone.

And what would the consequences be? Two years ago, a group of 75 marine scientists, including leading biologists and bioacousticians from Cornell, Duke, and Stanford, warned that opening the east coast to seismic is likely to have “significant, long-lasting and widespread impacts on the reproduction and survival of fish and marine mammal populations in the region, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which only 500 remain.” They warned that it “poses an unacceptable risk of serious harm to marine life at the species and population levels.”    

As with offshore drilling, seismic blasting is widely opposed by the public Trump claims to benefit. In the Atlantic, more than 100 municipalities from New Jersey to Florida have adopted resolutions rejecting it; more than 35,000 local businesses and business organizations are allied against it. The region’s two Fisheries Management Councils have repeatedly objected to it, as have numerous fishers’ associations up and down the coast.  In the community as on Capitol Hill, the opposition is truly bipartisan.

Trump may want to ignore coastal communities, fisheries, endangered whales, the climate and everyone and everything else that would suffer from his boon to the big oil companies. But we sure as hell won’t let him. Call your representatives in Congress to express concern over the new Executive Order and to demand that they oppose Trump’s push to blast, lease, and drill.

About the Authors

Michael Jasny

Director, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Land & Wildlife program

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