Possibility of Seismic Testing Upsets NJ Environmentalists
Fear that seismic testing will lead to drilling is what environmentalist, fishermen, and residents expressed in a public comment sessions for the Draft Environmental Statement for Seismic Testing on the Mid and South Atlantic.
The eighth and final meeting from the U.S Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was held in the Atlantic City Convention Center to discuss the draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), on whether requests for deep water and off shore testing would be allowed and to what degree.
Jim Bennett, chief of the division of environmental assessment with the Bureau of Ocean Energy
Management says Bureau has eleven applications for geological and geophysical testing and the crux of the decisions will fall on whether to grant permits for the applications.
Noting the ultimate point of the public comments will be to help address environmental impacts that would be considered during the decision making process.
Bennett says things they will be looking from the public is “things that we did not capture, in our draft environmental statement. Information about impacts to fish resources, marine mammals, and other resources.”
If approved it would allow, amongst other things, seismic air gun testing along areas of the sea floor that in the past was not permitted and is a fear of environmentalists who fear the damage it could cause to marine life.
According BOEM, all authorized geological and geophysical activities in the Mid and South Atlantic would have to conduct exploration on oil and gas, renewable energy, and marine minerals.
However Sierra club New Jersey President Jeff Tittel called the BOEM’s claims that it would also enforce renewable energy and marine mineral research a smokescreen, noting the entire point of testing will be to drill for oil.
”We’re concerned that ‘Test Baby Test’ becomes ‘Drill baby Drill’ which becomes ‘Spill Baby Spill’, and our oceans are much to valuable for anything like that to happen.”
Tittel was just one of a dozen New Jersey Environmental groups who came in unison to speak against the possibility of air gun testing off the coast.
Jim Lovgren, representing the state’s commercial fisherman spoke about the damage seismic testing has on the marine life. Noting that much of the sea life for miles within the blasts is killed and the remaining is left severly damaged.
”In Australia scallop beds have died within two months of testing. They don’t die initially their immune system gets wiped out.” Lovgren added how something similar to that could cause severe economic damage locally.
“Scallop beds on the East Coast are the most important fishing. From New Jersey South you’re looking at 200 million dollars annual of dockside value of scallops. Economically you’re talking about a billion dollars the scallop industry is from New Jersey south is contributing to the economy and that is in danger from the seismic testing.”
He notes if BOEM approves the testing, it will be “hypocritical for one agency (BOEM) to come by and tell the oil industry they can nuke every dolphin and whale in the ocean, while the national fishery service takes my industry on a zero take on marine mammals.”
Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action lead the group in a press conference before the meeting expressing how important it was for this to not come to pass.
“The Atlantic Ocean is a vibrant ecosystem that supports extraordinarily diverse marine life, which in turn supports a clean ocean economy for people that fish, dive, surf, swim, or just enjoy,” said Zipf. “We’ve worked hard to clean up our ocean. We will not stand by while our government opens the door to Big Oil. We are here to protect and defend our future,” she added
Sean Dixon, Clean Ocean Action’s Coastal Policy Attorney told the panel of the BOEM “This wasn’t about the price at the pump – this was about Big Oil making profits at the expense of the fishermen, businesses, and citizens of the Atlantic Ocean. Only two years after the BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf, Big Oil seems to think we’ve forgotten just how dangerous oil drilling can be,”
Geological and Geophysical activities that BOEM would review include coring, shallow test drilling, deep stratigraphic testing, controlled source electromagnetic surveys, and high resolution geophysical surveys including echo sounders, sidescan sonar and boomers.
The public comment and review portion, lasting until May 30th, considers all statements and will ultimately arrive at one of three alternatives.
Alternative A, which would have limited closure for habitats of the endangered Northern Right Whales, as well as add visual marine life protection, vessel avoidance, and marine trash awareness. Alternative B would build upon safety restrictions from Alternative A, expanding the closure of Right Whale habitats, as well as close off areas for nesting sea turtles in Central Florida, not allow simultaneous seismic surveys, and require acoustic monitoring of sea life instead of visual.
Alternative C, which is the one the majority of those in attendance in Atlantic City were in favor, would not permit testing in search of oil and gas, and maintain the status quo for renewable energy and marine mineral research.
According to Bennett, the BOEM expects to finalize the environmental impact statement later in the year, and there will be a record of the decision towards the end of the year.