Atlantic Seismic Testing

SCWF is part of a large coalition of National, State and Local groups that have been actively fighting oil and gas exploration and development off of our precious coast.  This coalition was very successful in playing a role in the Obama administration denying permits for seismic exploration and removing our coast from the five year lease sale plan.  Unfortunately, this victory was short lived as the current administration reversed all the protective decisions of the previous administration and is rushing forward with authorizing seismic testing and developing a new five year lease sale plan that includes all of the Atlantic (as well as the Arctic).

Seismic testing to preliminarily indicate the presence of fossil fuels under our ocean floor is in itself damaging.  Proponents argue that “what harm could it do to know what’s there.” 

The answer is “lots of harm.”  Five companies have applied for permits to do such testing.  A large seismic array of airguns is towed behind vessels that fire every 10 to 12 seconds, 24 hours a day for months at noise levels consistent with dynamite explosions.  Contrary to industry rhetoric, there has been a great deal of research that demonstrates both physical and behavioral impacts to organisms ranging from small zooplankton food chain communities to invertebrates, fish, and marine mammals. 

In addition, no one but the oil industry who buy the seismic data will “know what’s there” as the data is proprietary. The public, state and local governments, and even congress will not benefit from these studies or be able to make better informed decisions about drilling.  Also, seismic blasting is not definitive of quantity or type of hydrocarbon resource.  Further testing would need to be done by drilling test wells.  The great deepwater horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico originated from such a test well.  Furthermore, SCWF is vehemently opposed to drilling off of our coasts as it would lead to great losses of our fisheries and our tourist industry.  Since seismic testing is the first step along the pathway to drilling and is itself harmful, we are also opposed to this harmful practice.

The first step in obtaining a seismic permit is to request Individual Harassment Authorizations for marine mammals from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  THIS LETTER FROM SCWF provides our comments specific to that NMFS decision making process.  NMFS has already made draft decisions indicating that these multiple seismic operations would not unduly harm marine mammals.  After our analysis, we believe that that such decision is flawed and have submitted comments accordingly.

For more information on this issue, please contact SCWF Executive Director, Ben Gregg, or SCWF Special Projects Manager, Steve Gilbert.

*Photo by D. S. Owens