Offshore Seismic Gun Testing Concerns Aired

OCEAN CITY — The potential risks do not outweigh the possible rewards was a common theme last month at a public forum at the National Aquarium in Baltimore on the proposed plan to allow seismic air gun testing up and down the east coast, including off the coast of Ocean City.
With a renewed interest in tapping potential oil and gas reserves just off the mid-Atlantic coast, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), an arm of the Department of the Interior, is considering allowing private sector energy companies to utilize potentially harmful seismic air gun testing to determine what lies beneath the ocean floor.
However, a grassroots effort to derail the proposed use of seismic air guns, which shoot extremely loud and repeated blasts of sound into the ocean floor to determine to location of oil and gas reserves off the coast is gaining momentum with hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens signing petitions to block the potentially harmful survey technique. The latest in a series of public forums examining the potential dangers off Maryland’s Atlantic coast including Ocean City and Assateague was held at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and the overall message was as loud and clear as the seismic air gun testing itself.
“Imagine dynamite going off in your living room every 10 seconds for weeks or months at a time,” said Oceana Marine Scientist Matthew Huelsenbeck at the October forum. “That what it’s like for sea life that is subjected to seismic testing, but we don’t have to turn the Atlantic into a blast zone to fulfill our energy needs.”
The environmental advocacy group Oceana in September delivered a petition containing over 100,000 signatures to BOEM calling for the federal government to halt the practice. Oceana and its partners are holding a series of public forums up and down the east coast including the hearing on Oct. 17 in Baltimore specific to the potential Maryland impacts.
Seismic air guns shoot blasts of sound into the ocean floor, each of which is 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine. According to the federal government’s own report, the use of seismic air gun testing to survey what lies beneath the ocean floor is expected to injure and possibly kill 138,500 dolphins and whales along the east coast including nine critically endangered right whales, of which there are only about 500 left in the world.
While the federal report only references high-profile marine mammal species such as dolphins and whales, seismic air gun testing could impact other ocean species up and down the food chain. At the hearing in Baltimore last week, fisheries management groups said the testing could undo years of conservation efforts.
“The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council has worked diligently over the past decade to rebuild mid-Atlantic fish stocks and is concerned that the proposed seismic exploration for oil and gas along the Atlantic coast could contravene its efforts to conserve and manage the living marine resources under its jurisdiction,” said Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management senior scientist Richard Seagraves.
Others argued at a time when Maryland is on the threshold of offshore wind energy, potentially damaging seismic air gun testing is not needed.
“Maryland’s coast and our beloved Chesapeake Bay need wind mills, not oil spills,” said Chesapeake Climate Action Networks director Tommy Landers last week. “Maryland’s tourism industry is already threatened by climate change and rising sea levels along our precious coastline. We need to invest in clean, lasting renewable energy that will help clean up our air for decades, not offshore oil that could wreak havoc on our environment and our economy.”