Opposition to seismic airgun blasting and Atlantic drilling has been mounting for years, and the
issue will continue to be significant for people along the East Coast. Especially since nearly 1.5 million jobs
and over $108 billion in gross domestic product rely on healthy ocean ecosystems, mainly through fishing,
tourism and recreation.
To accelerate new offshore drilling, federal lawmakers are considering legislation to promote seismic blasting, an industry practice that damages marine life and pollutes the ocean with noise. Please contact your elected officials to protect marine wildlife from this harmful practice.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last six months, you know that the Trump administration is proposing new offshore oil drilling off virtually every U.S. coastline. But did you know that new drilling will also require seismic blasting – a damaging practice to search for oil and gas that involves deafening underwater noise and harms wildlife such as whales, dolphins, fish, and turtles?
Seismic surveys are used by industry to locate and estimate the size of offshore oil and gas deposits before the drilling process begins. To carry out these surveys, ships tow airgun arrays that emit thousands of high-decibel sound waves that bounce off the seafloor. These sounds can be upwards of 240 decibels or more, which is louder than a rock concert or a jet engine flying 100 feet overhead! Moreover, given the geographic scope of potential offshore drilling, such surveys could cover thousands of square miles of ocean in the coming years.
The impact of such noise pollution in the ocean can be devastating to marine life. At close range, seismic airgun blasts can cause injury or death to animals such as whales, dolphins, fish, turtles, and invertebrates. According to an environmental impact statement completed by the federal government in 2014, seismic surveys in the Mid- and South Atlantic could injure up to 130,000 marine mammals, including the critically endangered Right Whale and the bottlenose dolphin. Seismic surveys would also displace and cause impacts – such as temporary hearing loss – to a broad range of fish and invertebrate populations.
But the impacts of seismic blasting don’t just occur at close range. On the contrary, the sounds generated from seismic surveys can travel hundreds or even thousands of miles and disrupt the behavior of a broad range of marine species. Sound travels efficiently underwater – much better than light for example – so it’s not surprising that many animals in the ocean depend on sound for activities such as communication, feeding, migration, and mating that are fundamental to survival. If we continue to saturate the underwater world with noise (already a huge problem as depicted in the film Sonic Sea) we will harm both individual species as well as the health of entire marine ecosystems.
Given these grave impacts, it’s disconcerting that some of our federal leaders are working to dismantle laws that provide some measure of protection from seismic blasting. The Trump administration is expected to make an announcement soon on five permit applications to conduct seismic surveys in the Mid- and South Atlantic. Surfrider and many other groups have been fighting this threat since 2010 through a grassroots campaign that has united hundreds of communities, thousands of businesses, and millions of citizens in opposing oil and gas development in the Atlantic Ocean.
In addition, two bills have been introduced in Congress to reduce regulations for companies seeking to conduct seismic surveys and related activities in the ocean. The Streamlining Environmental Approvals Act (SEA Act) would gut core provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and override the Endangered Species Act to fast-track seismic permits. The Strengthening the Economy with Critical Untapped Resources to Expand American Energy (SECURE Act) includes similar provisions, as well as other language to promote new offshore drilling. Both bills have passed through the House Natural Resources Committee and could go to a floor vote any day.
That’s why it’s critical that people opposed to seismic blasting contact their representatives in Congress to demand their leadership in opposing this damaging practice. The good news is that some of federal leaders are listening and taking steps to limit seismic activities in the ocean – both due to the impacts caused by the surveys themselves and the implications for new oil and gas development. For example, ocean champions in the Senate and House have introduced the Atlantic Seismic Airgun Protection Act (S 1263/ HR 2158) to ban this activity off the East Coast. We need to champion such legislation that will stop seismic surveys for oil and gas under this and future administrations!
Whales and dolphins are among the most magnificent creatures on earth, but they cannot vote or call members of Congress. So please speak out on their behalf to protect their environment from harmful seismic blasting!
Contact Your Member of Congress click here
Visit Surfrider’s Offshore Drilling campaign page
What Can You Do?
by Katie Day
The Trump administration has opened a public comment period on proposed seismic blasting off the Atlantic coast. Please submit your comments by July 21st to help protect marine wildlife and stop the expansion of offshore oil drilling!
The federal government has re-opened the review process to permit harmful seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean. These permits would allow offshore oil and gas developers to knowingly harm marine mammals and other wildlife when exploring for underground oil and gas reserves by providing “incidental harassment authorizations” to override protections under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. The public comment period for the five permit applications will be open until July 21st.
Seismic airgun surveys involve the use of high intensity acoustic blasts emitted as frequently as every 10 seconds from ships towards the ocean floor. The blasts must be loud enough to reach the ocean floor and return back to the ship’s receivers, in order to determine the presence of underground oil and gas reserves. These blasts create a noise 100 times louder than ambient background noise levels, and can be heard up to 4,000 km away, severely impacting marine animals that rely on sonar for communication and navigation.
Respected scientists from top institutions including Duke University, Cornell University, and Wildlife Conservation Society issued a joint statement stressing their concerns over the irreversible impacts that would occur to sensitive marine wildlife. The strongest concern was over endangered Northern Right Whales, since proposed surveys would occur in known migration areas. These intense blasts have also been known to cause mother-calf pairs of whales to be separated, increase the instance of whale and dolphin strandings, kill fish eggs, displace fish populations, and reduce the ability of marine life to locate prey, mate, spawn, and migrate in their habitats.
The Surfrider Foundation, along with coastal communities, businesses, fishermen, and recreationalists have actively opposed seismic blasting in the Atlantic since federal scoping began in 2010. Not only would seismic airgun blasting cause catastrophic impacts to the marine ecosystem, including irreparable injury to tens of thousands of whales and dolphins, it would also set the stage for offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast, a dirty and dangerous practice that threatens the health of our oceans and coastal communities.
In 2016, the Obama Administration made the wise decision to protect the Atlantic coast from seismic blasting and offshore drilling based on extensive scientific review and millions of comments from citizens. Now, Surfrider is committed to extending these protections by encouraging the National Marine Fisheries Service to deny incidental take authorizations for seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic. To succeed we need your help, so please join us in submitting comments to protect the Atlantic coast!
You can help us protect marine wildlife in the Atlantic from Seismic Surveys!
1) Contact your representatives in Congress to ask them to help protect the Atlantic from seismic blasting: take action.
2) Submit comments to the National Marine Fisheries Service specifically opposing proposed authorizations. Personalized comments carry more weight (how will these surveys affect your life and what you care about?).
Send your email to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, at ITP.Laws@noaa.gov. See the Federal Register notice here. For the strongest impact, be sure to provide scientifically supported evidence regarding potential impacts to marine wildlife, including:
- The use of multiple airguns used simultaneously in each seismic array causes greater noise than each airgun individually, exacerbating adverse impacts associated with lower intensity seismic airguns (NOAA. 2017. “Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Geophysical Surveys in the Atlantic Ocean”).
- Adverse impacts associated with seismic airguns include disrupted communication between fin whales (International Whaling Commission. 2007. Report of the scientific committee. Annex K. Report of the Standing Working Group on environmental concerns. J. Cetacean Res. Manag. 9 (Suppl.): 227–296), which is essential for whales to find each other and reproduce, and thus has the ability to reduce recruitment rates (Croll, D.A., Clark, C.W., Acevedo, A., Tershy, B., Flores, S., Gedamke, J., and Urban, J. 2002. Only male fin whales sing loud songs. Nature (London), 417: 809).
- Approval of several seismic surveys simultaneously will result in additional migrational impacts and habitat fragmentation, increasing the likelihood of adverse effects to marine mammals, reducing survival and recruitment rates.
- Marine mammals considered adversely affected by seismic airguns located in the proposed area include 16 whale species (5 of which are endangered), 17 dolphin species, and the harbor porpoise (NOAA. 2017. “Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Geophysical Surveys in the Atlantic Ocean”).
- Only an estimated 465 North Atlantic Right Whales are left in the western North Atlantic, making them critically endangered (NOAA Fisheries. 2016. “North Atlantic Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis)”).