Feds Propose Oil & Gas Exploration Off U.S. East Coast

Photo: Members of the Surfrider Foundation Protest Seismic Air Gun Testing at the 2013 Cocoa Beach Christmas Parade.  Brevard Times / File
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- The U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (DOI) released a final proposal today to allow the use of controversial seismic airguns, to look for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware Bay to just south of Cape Canaveral, Florida. 

“By failing to consider relevant science, the Obama administration’s decision could be a death sentence for many marine mammals, needlessly turning the Atlantic Ocean into a blast zone,” said Jacqueline Savitz, Vice President for U.S. Oceans at Oceana.  “If seismic airguns are allowed in the Atlantic, it will jeopardize wildlife as well as commercial and recreational fisheries, tourism and coastal recreation—putting more than 730,000 jobs in the blast zone at risk.  In its rush to finalize this proposal, the Obama administration is failing to consider the cumulative impacts that these repeated dynamite-like blasts will have on vital behaviors like mating, feeding, breathing, communicating and navigating.

Today’s decision comes one week after more than 100 scientists called on President Obama and his administration to wait on new acoustic guidelines for marine mammals, which are currently in development by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“With offshore drilling in the Atlantic more than four years away, there is absolutely no justification for failing to include the best available science in this decision,” said Savitz. “Seismic airguns create one of the loudest manmade sounds in the ocean, and we should be doing everything we can to protect marine life from their loud blasts. These devices are loud enough to kill small animals like fish eggs and larvae at close ranges and can disrupt the behavior of large animals like whales and dolphins from up to 100 miles away. It’s as if the Obama administration has learned nothing from the destruction that similar testing has caused off the coasts of Namibia, Australia and Madagascar.”

Off the Florida coast, DOI estimates that 40-50 percent of the sampling will occur at existing borrow sites such as Canaveral Shoals and Jacksonville.

Beyond the environmental concerns, the proposal requires oil and gas explorers to address conflicts of their operations with NASA and the Department of Defense (DoD).  NASA has designated downrange danger zones and has identified patterns for recent debris cones from rocket tests that represent hazards for surface activities after such tests. There are also restricted areas for rocket testing, satellite launches, and other range mission activities.  

NASA restricted areas within the proposed exploration areas are offshore the Goddard Space Flight Center’s (GSFC’s) Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) in Virginia and offshore of the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.    Also, five major DoD range complexes include periodic vessel access restrictions to portions each range complex.  

Oil and gas explorers would be required to notify designated DoD or NASA personnel of the nature and schedule for any pending exploration activity planned within military range complexes or NASA’s use areas.

Additionally, commercial fishing would be temporarily excluded from any exploration operation areas.

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