Federal Government OKs Seismic Exploration for Oil, Gas on the East Coast

Deafening, Dynamite-like Underwater Acoustic Assaults Would Injure Up to 138,000 Marine Mammals and Reduce Catch Rates of Commercial Fisherman

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 17, 2014) — The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a decision today that would open the East Coast — from the New Jersey/ Delaware border to Cape Canaveral, Florida — to dangerous “seismic” exploration for offshore oil and gas. This seismic testing threatens to harm already-imperiled marine mammal populations as well as important commercial fisheries throughout the region, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Following is a statement from Michael Jasny, Director of NRDC’s Marine Mammal Protection Project:

“Not only is seismic exploration a gateway drug to offshore drilling, it is a major assault on our ocean itself, with far-reaching impacts on marine mammals and fish. That’s why today’s decision will be met with enormous opposition from scientists, fishermen, and conservationists alike.  Green-lighting seismic off the east coast makes no sense for whales, for fisheries, for energy prices, or for our children’s future in a warming climate.”


Under the Bureau’s decision, industry would be permitted to troll the coast with high-volume airgun arrays, which release intense blasts of compressed air into the water — almost as loud as explosives —every 10-12 seconds, for weeks and months at a time. This activity, according to an environmental impact statement prepared by the agency, would injure up to 138,000 marine mammals and disrupt feeding, calving, breeding and other vital activities more than 13 million times over the next eight years. At particular risk is the North Atlantic right whale, one of the most endangered whale species on the planet, of which only 500 remain. Given their enormous power, impacts from seismic blasts will be felt well beyond New Jersey and in whale habitat off New England.

Airgun surveys have also been shown to dramatically depress catch rates of commercial fish species across thousands of square kilometers of ocean, leading fishermen in Norway and other parts of the world to seek industry compensation for their losses. 

The decision to begin seismic shooting is strongly opposed by municipalities, members of Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council and environmental organizations, and by more than 100 biologists, who in February called on the administration to postpone its decision until the full scale of wildlife impacts is known. Industry must now apply to the Bureau for permits and seek compliance under the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and other statutes, a process that is likely to generate further controversy.

NRDC Seismic Survey fact sheet: www.nrdc.org/oceans/files/seismic.pdf.

Footage of single airgun – just one of dozens found on large seismic arrays – firing underwater here: http://youtu.be/63rVFxTaYFM


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