Ocean Protection, Ocean Energy, Updates, Not the answer
September 22 2016

Will Seismic Blasting Happen in the Atlantic this Year?

by Pete Stauffer

Earlier this year, Surfrider Foundation and our partners won a huge victory when the Obama Administration announced it was canceling plans to allow oil drilling off the Atlantic coast. The decision was a major achievement for Surfrider's 34 East Coast chapters who have worked tirelessly to protect the Atlantic from oil platforms. Yet, overshadowed by the government's decision to remove the Atlantic from the 5 Year Drilling Plan is the fact that seismic exploration for oil and gas is still planned for the Atlantic later this year. 

Seismic exploration involves the use of high-decibel sound blasts – underwater explosions – to identify oil and gas deposits beneath the seafloor. Vessels towing airguns traverse large swaths of ocean, saturating the marine environment with noise pollution that causes devastating impacts to marine wildlife and the health of the ecosystem. According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)'s own estimates, seismic exploration in the Atlantic could injure up to 130,000 marine mammals over the next eight years, including the critically endangered Right Whale and the bottlenose dolphin.

Moreover, seismic blasting represents the first step towards offshore oil drilling, which communities on the Atlantic coast passionately oppose. Over the past two years, over 100 cities on the East Coast have passed resolutions against offshore drilling and seismic testing off their shores. In addition, over 1,000 recreational businesses and groups on the Atlantic coast have signed a letter against oil drilling and seismic surveys. In March of this year, Surfrider and a delegation of recreation industry leaders met with White House and BOEM officials to express concerns over socioeconomic impacts that would likely result from offshore oil and gas development.

Currently, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is reviewing permit applications from oil companies to conduct seismic exploration off the Atlantic. The permit applications span from Delaware to Florida and target areas from close to shore to over 500 miles out. Meanwhile, NOAA, whose approval is also needed given impacts to marine mammals, has indicated they may open a 30 day public comment period on the issue later this fall. However, specific information about the likelihood and timing of seismic blasting off the Atlantic coast has been difficult to procure from federal agencies.

In an effort to forestall seismic blasting in the Atlantic this year or in the future, two U.S. Senators, Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, both from New Jersey, have introduced a bill that would ban seismic testing to locate offshore oil deposits off the East Coast. The proposed legislation would prevent BOEM from issuing permits to oil companies seeking to conduct seismic surveys. "Although we were successful in preventing the near-term threat of offshore drilling in the Atlantic, there is still more work to be done", said Senator Booker at a press conference flanked by researchers, students, and environmental advocates including Surfrider's John Weber. "Seismic testing is not only harmful to our marine ecosystems, but it could deliver a crippling blow to New Jersey’s coastal economy.”

Support for the Atlantic Seismic Airgun Protection Act is a key part of Surfrider's Protect the Atlantic campaign. In addition, Surfrider continues to target both the White House and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on this issue, as well as raise broader awareness among coastal communities and the public about the impacts of offshore seismic activities. 

Now is the Time to Speak Up!

The next few weeks are a crucial time to make your voice heard on planned seismic blasting in the Atlantic. See below for more information on how to express your views to decision makers and resouces you can reference for your comments

Complete the action alert against seismic testing click here

Read Surfrider's comments on the Proposed 5 Year Plan click here

Visit Surfrider's Protect the Atlantic campaign page click here

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