OCEAN CITY — While the Obama administration announced in March it was abandoning plans to open a vast swath of ocean off the mid-Atlantic coast as close as 20 miles from the resort for offshore drilling for oil and natural gas, the threat of seismic air gun blasting to find those very reserves remains a real threat.
A collective sigh of relief was heard from coastal communities in mid-March when the administration reversed course on a controversial plan to lease a vast area totaling nearly three million acres off the mid-Atlantic coast to offshore drilling for oil and natural gas reserves. The federal government’s reversal came after strong opposition to the proposal from local, state and elected officials, environmental advocacy groups and hundreds of coastal communities along the east coast whose economies rely on clean oceans, healthy natural resources, tourism and commercial and recreational fishing.
However, left on the table was a federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) proposal to allow private sector companies to utilize potentially harmful seismic air gun testing to determine what oil and gas reserves lay beneath the ocean floor off the mid-Atlantic coast. Seismic air guns shoot blasts of sound into the ocean floor, each of which has been equated to 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine’s sound.
Last July, BOEM released its final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for seismic air gun testing in the mid-Atlantic, essentially opining the potential rewards outweigh any possible impact to marine life. While there are still several hurdles to clear before seismic air guns are blasted into the ocean floor off the mid-Atlantic coast, the PEIS represents the federal government’s intention to move forward with the practice despite an outcry of opposition from nearly all corners.
To that end, a pair of U.S. Senators from New Jersey introduced legislation aimed at protecting the Atlantic from seismic air gun testing in the search for oil and gas reserves deep below the ocean floor. Throughout the process, Maryland’s U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin have public opposed seismic air gun testing off the mid-Atlantic coast, but neither has yet signed on to the legislation introduced by New Jersey Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez aptly named the Atlantic Seismic Air Gun Protection Act.
While the Atlantic was made safe from offshore drilling last month, seismic air gun testing is still being pursued. According to the bill introduced last week, the area being pursued for seismic testing in the Atlantic is twice the size of California and would stretch from Delaware to Florida.
Several environmental advocacy groups continue to battle against seismic air gun testing. Locally, the Assateague Coastal Trust has called on local residents to urge their Senators and Congressman to support the legislation introduced last week. On a larger scale, the environmental watchdog group Oceana continues to decry the proposed seismic testing.
“The Obama administration’s wise decision to protect the Atlantic Ocean from offshore drilling is jeopardized by its continued pursuit of seismic air gun blasting,” the Oceana statement released this week reads. “The fight to protect the Atlantic is not over.”
Oceana contends with the removal of offshore drilling in the mid-Atlantic removed, there is no good reason to move forward with seismic air gun blasting. Essentially, the potential benefits do not outweigh the risks.
“With offshore drilling off the table in the Atlantic, there is absolutely no reason to risk the damage that would be caused by seismic air gun blasting in the region,” the statement reads. “The noise from seismic air gun blasting is so loud that it can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source, or roughly the distance from Washington, D.C. to Las Vegas.”
Roughly 95 east coast municipalities, including Ocean City, Berlin and Fenwick locally among others, have publicly opposed seismic air gun blasting, citing concerns for marine life, coastal communities and local economies. While the Obama administration took offshore drilling in the Atlantic off the table last month, the threat of seismic testing off the coast remains very real.
“In addition to being extremely loud, these blasts are of special concern to marine life, including fish, turtles and whales, which depend on sound for communication and survival,” the statement reads. “Along the Atlantic coast, nearly 1.4 million jobs and over $95 billion in gross domestic product relay on healthy ocean ecosystems, mainly through fishing, tourism and recreation. Coastal communities remain united in their opposition to offshore drilling activities off our coast.”
Oceana is calling for more investment in safe, renewable energy sources and an abandonment of the pursuit of fossil fuels.
“It’s time for President Obama to stop seismic air gun blasting and protect the more than 100,000 marine mammals currently in harm’s way,” the statement reads. “Instead of expanding our dependence on risky offshore drilling, we should rapidly develop clean energy solutions like offshore wind.”