If the Obama administration was recently convinced to change course and not allow drilling for oil and gas off the Mid-Atlantic coast, why is it moving ahead with giving permits for destructive seismic testing for oil deposits in the same area?
That’s the question many in the successful anti-drilling coalition of coastal governments, businesses (including the South Carolina Small Business Chamber), environmental groups and concerned citizens are asking.
Unfortunately the answer is pretty simple. Offshore drilling and seismic testing were always on two different administrative procedure tracks. We derailed the drilling-train on one track but the seismic testing-train was further down the line on a different track. And that latter train could arrive at the Atlantic station as early as this summer unless we derail it also.
Seismic testing poses great risks to our marine life which thus threatens our fisheries, sport fishing and other tourism dependent on a healthy ocean. For days and weeks on end high-intensity blasts of compressed air would be set off every 10 seconds from ships to obtain information from under the Atlantic sea bed about possible oil reserves.
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If you lived in the ocean in the path of seismic testing, you would already be making plans to move. But you would need to move far, far away since the sound from these loud seismic blasts can carry up to 2,500 miles under water. The marine life will respond just like you would if your life was so disrupted. It will leave if it can. If it can’t, it will stop all normal activities. The very survival of marine life that is dependent on auditory communication to navigate, find food and even locate others of its kind to mate will be in jeopardy. Seismic testing will also result in harm to marine animals that migrate along the Atlantic coast.
But why do we need seismic testing at all if offshore drilling is off the table and can only be revisited many years from now? The answer to this question depends on who you ask. If you ask the oil companies, they will tell you that they want the information in their back pockets just in case the time comes that offshore drilling is ever allowed. The 30-year old data on oil deposits they now have was produced with inferior technology so it might not be accurate.
If you ask the seismic testing companies, and they are honest, they’ll tell you that they can’t make money if they don’t test. It’s what they do.
If you ask the politicians who still support seismic testing, they’ll give you the same bogus response they gave for supporting drilling: more jobs, increased revenue for the states and national energy independence.
And if you ask the federal agencies, they will tell you that unless the President tells them to stop, they are only carrying out an administrative process already set in place.
Our responses to these answers should be just as straightforward and succinct.
Oil companies: if you can’t do offshore drilling for another 20, 25, 30 years from now (or ever), why do you need data from a testing technology that will be out-of-date by the time information is relevant? Testing with new technology will surely be required if drilling is ever allowed. This is a waste of your time and money.
Seismic testing companies: we don’t care if you lose multi-millions of dollars of business. Get out of the stone age and develop new, less environmentally-destructive testing technology.
Pro-testing politicians: seismic testing won’t create jobs, or put more dollars into the public treasury or result in national energy independence. Swallow your pride and declare that no drilling means no testing. Listen to the growing public opposition. Acknowledge that the risks are too great with no tangible public benefits. Get in front of the parade instead of getting trampled by it.
Federal agencies: thank you for concluding that offshore drilling in the mid-Atlantic was a bad idea. Now we need you to reach the same decision for testing and we’ll help by letting the President know that pursuing seismic testing makes no sense at all.
Raise your voice of opposition directly to the President (https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/write-or-call). You can also sign the petition at http://action.coastalconservationleague.org/page/s/seismic-petition.
Knapp is the president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.