The Obama Administration has given the go-ahead to a massive new oil exploration program off the Atlantic coast. It has approved the use of underwater blasts of sound to pinpoint oil and gas deposits in federal Atlantic Ocean waters.
“Imagine dynamite going off in your neighborhood every ten seconds for days, weeks and months on end,” says Michael Jasny, a marine mammal expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Now imagine that you depend on your hearing to feed, mate, communicate and do just about everything else necessary for survival. That’s the situation that endangered whales and other wildlife are facing with air gun exploration.”
The White House’s decision disappointed many environmentalists, as well as representatives of East Coast fisheries, and the tourism industry.
“Obama is caving to the constant pressure from business (oil and gas and its allies) to exploit every potential oil field, whether off our coasts, in delicate terrestrial ecosystems, or the Arctic,” Joshua Horwitz, author of the new book War of the Whales: A True Story, told The Progressive.
The measure is also inconsistent with the Obama Administration’s vow to fight global warming.
“Opening vast stretches off the East Coast to oil and gas has no place in an otherwise historic agenda to combat climate change,” Jasny told the Associated Press.
The decision “applies to an area of ocean twice the size of California from Delaware to Florida,” reports the ThinkProgress website. The testing will begin next year, with the sale of offshore leases starting in 2017 and actual drilling commencing a few years after.
The consequences could be devastating for “whales and other marine wildlife,” says Horwitz. “Air guns that will be firing from the water's surface downward every six seconds, around the clock. If you're, for instance, a North Atlantic right whale—the most endangered species of whale on Earth, with only about 500 surviving whales today—you will likely abandon your coastal migration path and foraging grounds simply to escape the acoustic storm of the constant air gun volleys.”
“The ocean is an acoustic world,” adds Jasny. “When we let industry blast away with large guns, we are fundamentally compromising the health of our oceans.”
More than 100 marine scientists and conservation biologists signed a letter to President Obama in February urging caution before any such move.
Democrats in Congress who represent districts along the Eastern seaboard have expressed public disagreement.
“Seismic testing in the Atlantic is a first major step towards offshore oil drilling, to which I am absolutely opposed,” Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey stated in a press release. “The inevitable environmental costs of expanding oil and gas exploration into the Atlantic Ocean are great. With New Jersey’s coastal economy still reeling from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, our fishing and tourism industries need to be protected from further challenges to their economic and environmental well-being.”
Horwitz foresees a dire future.
“The worst news is that unless citizens rise up in loud and unified protest, these air gun brigades are simply the precursor of the off-shore oil extraction rigs that will doubtless follow,” he says. “More noise, more pollution, both noise-based and toxic substances, are destined to be fouling out coastal ecosystems and beaches. Unless we reverse this trend, the East Coast of the United States could soon resemble the Gulf Coast.”
Jasny and Horwitz both urge the Obama Administration to do an about-face.
“Simply put: change course,” Jasny advises the White House. “Withdraw the recent decision.”
And Horwitz asks the public to start mobilizing: “Unless the EPA stands up to the Interior Department and says ‘No Go,’ it will fall to citizen groups to oppose this environmentally destructive decision.”