Defenders of ocean habitats and marine life are up in arms on Friday as the Trump administration is set to approve new abilities for the fossil fuel industry to conduct widescale and "deafening" underwater seismic in federal waters off the U.S. Atlantic coast.
The decision is expected to come from the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the Commerce Department, but conservation groups say it is a smack in the face to ocean ecosystems and a political nonstarter they vow to fight tooth and nail.
"This action flies in the face of massive opposition to offshore drilling and exploration from over 90 percent of coastal municipalities in the proposed blast zone," said Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana. "These permits were already denied because of the known harm that seismic airgun blasting causes. President Trump is essentially giving these companies permission to harass, harm and possibly even kill marine life, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale – all in the pursuit of dirty and dangerous offshore oil. This is the first step toward offshore drilling in the Atlantic and we're going to make sure coastal communities know what's happening and fight this."
Michael Jasny, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at NRDC, said the president's action is totally detached from the reality of the threats the world's ecosytems now face.
"Just one week after issuing dire warnings on the catastrophic fallout of climate change to come, the Trump Administration is opening our coastlines to for-profit companies to prospect for oil and gas—and is willing to sacrifice marine life, our coastal communities and fisheries in the process," fumed Jasny. "This is the first step towards drilling and scientists warn that seismic activity alone could drive the endangered North American right whale to extinction. We'll stand with citizens, coastal businesses, scientists, lawmakers, and commercial and recreational fishermen who oppose seismic blasting, and we will fight this illegal action."
According to the Washington Post:
In addition to harming sea life, acoustic tests — in which boats tugging rods pressurized for sound emit jet engine-like booms 10 to 12 seconds apart for days and sometimes months — can disrupt thriving commercial fisheries. Governors, state lawmakers and attorneys general along the Atlantic coast say drilling threatens beach tourism that has flourished on the coast in the absence of oil production.
Seismic testing maps the ocean floor and estimates the whereabouts of oil and gas, but only exploratory drilling can confirm their presence. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill that soiled the Gulf of Mexico resulted from an exploratory drill. Another gulf disaster that looms almost as large has spewed oil for more than 14 years. The Taylor Energy Co. spill of up to an estimated 700 barrels a day started when a hurricane ripped up production wells, and could continue for the rest of the century, according to the Interior Department.
"Seismic blasting is a violent, destructive precursor to unnecessary offshore oil drilling," said Angela Howe, Surfrider Foundation Legal Director, in a statement. "According to estimates from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the seismic exploration projects could directly harm tens of thousands of whales and dolphins, in addition to thousands of manatees, seals, and sea turtles. This type of damage to our coastal resources is unacceptable. The Surfrider Foundation and our strong coalition of allies will stand up to protect our ocean, waves and beaches for the future."
While the seismic blasting is awful enough, Earthjustice warns that this is only a part of the Trump adminstration's assault on the oceans and marine life. As the group notes:
While destructive in their own right, the seismic tests are only a first step in the Trump administration’s broader plans for dramatic expansion of offshore drilling in the Atlantic and beyond. The Department of the Interior has proposed opening 90 percent of U.S. federal offshore waters to the fossil fuel industry, exposing nearly every coastline in the nation to the risk of an environmentally devastating oil spill and the degradation that comes with industrializing more of our rich ocean environments. Since the planning process for this offshore leasing expansion got underway, more than 1.45 million Americans have demonstrated intense opposition with rallies, marches and comments submitted to the Department of Interior agency responsible for crafting the plan.
"As usual, the Trump administration is pulling out all the stops to give favors to the fossil fuel industry, whatever the cost to coastal communities and wildlife," said Athan Manuel, the lands protection program director for the Sierra Club. "We will continue to fight back against their dangerous plans to subject our coasts to seismic blasting and expanded offshore drilling."