A Push for Offshore Oil
A recent move by the Trump administration could lead the way to oil and gas exploration and extraction off the Atlantic coast.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has approved five requests that will allow companies to conduct seismic surveys. The “incidental take” authorizations allow companies conducting such surveys — geophysical companies working on behalf of oil and gas corporations, The Post reported — to harm marine life as long as it is unintentional.
Such surveys would be conducted using seismic air guns, which emit loud blasts on a recurring basis, 10 seconds apart for 24 hours a day, often for weeks at a time, according to the environmental group Greenpeace. The sonic blasts, or “pings,” penetrate through the ocean and miles into the seafloor and can harm whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and fish. They can result in temporary and permanent hearing loss, habitat abandonment, disruption of mating and feeding, beachings, and death, according to Greenpeace.
On Tuesday, Representative Lee Zeldin, who is generally supportive of the administration, and dozens of his colleagues in the House of Representatives wrote to Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the Interior Department, and Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Department secretary, to “strongly oppose” the incidental-take permits and exploration off the Atlantic shoreline.
Seismic air guns “can disturb, harm, and potentially kill not only marine mammals but also a wide range of marine life that support coastal economies from Florida to Maine,” the letter said. “Offshore oil and gas exploration and development, the first step of which is seismic air gun testing, puts at risk coastal economies based on fishing, tourism, and recreation. Numerous studies show the detrimental impacts seismic air gun blasting has on fisheries and marine mammals, thereby affecting the catch anglers bring dockside and the revenue generated by related businesses.”
The letter cites a 2014 study of North Carolina’s coast by NOAA, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Duke University that found that the abundance of reef fish declined by 78 percent during evening hours, when fish were most plentiful on the three previous days when seismic surveys did not take place. “The tertiary effects of this trickle down to fishing businesses, restaurants, and the visitors that flock to our coastal communities,” the letter said.
The members of Congress said that constituents, including business owners, elected officials, and coastal residents, have contacted them to register their opposition to oil and gas exploration and drilling in the Atlantic or eastern Gulf of Mexico. “Local chambers of commerce, tourism and restaurant associations, and an alliance representing over 43,000 businesses and 500,000 commercial fishing families strongly oppose offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling,” they wrote.
The letter further complained that coastal communities impacted by drilling would not have access to data obtained from seismic surveys, as they are proprietary to the oil and gas industry. Even members of Congress would not have access, according to the letter.
In December 2016, weeks before he left office, President Barack Obama announced a permanent ban on offshore oil and gas drilling from Virginia to Maine, and along much of Alaska’s coast. The East Hampton Town Board passed a memorializing resolution in August in support of a continued ban.
“As I understand it, testing at this point is going to be taking place around Delaware [and southward],” said Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, “but I think that given the deleterious effects of that on sea life, in addition to the fact that we need to be exploring alternatives to fossil fuels rather than further development of that industry, it’s a double insult.”
The Trump administration’s move to promote oil and gas extraction, and to revive the coal industry, coincides with the declining costs of clean energy generation, primarily solar and wind power. Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind, formerly Deepwater Wind, plans a 15-turbine South Fork Wind Farm for a site approximately 35 miles off Montauk, and has several other offshore installations planned.
Mr. Zeldin “is an advocate for clean and green energy,” Katie Vincentz, a spokeswoman for the congressman, said in an email on Monday, “and understands that there is a lot to take into account with any project on Long Island, including the possible adverse impact on our local fisheries. Any green energy proposal will not be viable if it devastates the waterways which have been the hallmark of our community for generations.”
Commercial fishermen are almost uniformly against the South Fork Wind Farm, fearing a detrimental impact on their livelihood. But Gary Cobb, an opponent of the wind farm who has publicly represented East Hampton’s baymen throughout Deepwater Wind/Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind’s proceedings as it seeks approvals from federal, state, and local regulators, said in an email yesterday that “there is absolutely zero difference between pinging the [ocean] bottom for offshore oil/gas and pinging the bottom for offshore wind.”
Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, did not respond to an email seeking comment.