Some fear effects of seismic testing for oil off coast

  • Wednesday, July 30, 2014

U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management This map shows the outer continental shelf in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Seismic surveying for gas and oil off the coast, which the federal government has approved, could lead to a major boost for the state economy, but some fear that marine mammals will be harmed in the process.

Some scientists disagree, saying this kind of testing has been done around the world and along the U.S. coast with no data showing marine mammals were negatively impacted.

Testing is being planned on the Atlantic outer continental shelf, beyond three miles from the coast, which is under federal jurisdiction.

Environmental groups say pulses from “sonar cannons” are louder than a jet engine and repeat every 10 seconds for weeks at a time, according to the Associated Press.

These groups and people who depend on the fishing industry and tourism are concerned that these animals and others could be deafened by the noise and left unable to find food.

“This is like a huge experiment because we really don’t know the full impacts of seismic testing,” said Nancy Cave, director of the North

Coast Office of the Coastal Conservation League (CCL).

“It is being done for the benefit of a handful of private companies.”

She stated that the CCL feels that if oil and gas is located off our coast it would be very difficult to attain because of the geology of the ocean bottom.

Furthermore, she said the CCL is concerned about environmental impacts of drilling for oil if it is found off the coast, bringing up the example of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“What the government should be focussing on is alternative energy, putting a greater emphasis on solar, offshore wind and energy efficiency,” Cave said.

“We, along with any number of organizations, are looking at litigation.”

She said there is still time for people to voice their opposition, using the link below, to seismic testing in the next five-year plan starting in 2017.

Seismic testing could be started before 2017, depending on litigation.

James Knapp, a professor with the University of South Carolina’s School of Earth, Ocean and Environment who has researched the seismic survey technology for several decades, said the fears about marine mammals being harmed are unfounded.

He stated that the technology, which he called air guns not sonar cannons, is the equivalent of a CAT scan of the Earth.

He added that the sounds produced by the air guns are not comparable to a jet engine and that there have been no reports of marine mammals being harmed during the surveys.

“If it were a matter of slaughtering marine mammals, I don’t think anyone would support it,” Knapp said.

“But that is not the case. The data shows no evidence that use of air guns leads to mass mortality of marine mammals.”

Knapp stated that in the 1970s and 80s there were fairly extensive surveys conducted in the Atlantic Ocean, but a moratorium in the 1980s banned such testing.

Knapp testified before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in January stating that seismic surveying in the Atlantic Ocean is “long overdue.”

“Actually, it is the obligation of the federal government to determine the accurate estimate of resources on the outer continental shelf,” Knapp said.

He added that the technology for seismic surveying has advanced and has become safer for marine life.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has taken a conservative approach, Knapp said, avoiding times of the year when marine mammals are migrating or are in certain areas.

Also, a marine mammal expert is required to be on board each of the ships during the seismic surveys, Knapp stated.

The National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) has reported that South Carolina has large oil and natural gas reserves in the waters off its coast and the state is well positioned to benefit significantly from oil and gas activity, which is expected to reach more than $2.1 billion in 2035.

The report states that our state’s offshore oil and natural gas could mean 35,500 jobs by 2035, $15.6 billion in cumulative spending (2017 to 2035), $3.7 billion in cumulative state government revenue (2017 to 2035) and $2.7 billion in annual contributions to the economy by 2035.

“Opening the U.S. Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf to offshore oil and natural gas exploration and production could have remarkable benefits for job creation, U.S. energy security, domestic investment and revenue to the federal and state governments,” the report states.

According to the Associated Press, oil lobbyists estimate that there are 4.72 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 37.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas beneath the ocean floor from Florida to Maine.

Lobbyists say that could generate $195 billion in investment and spending between 2017 and 2035, which would bring $23.5 billion per year to the U.S. economy.

Tim Tilley, chair of the economic development alliance for Georgetown County, said this area needs a substantial economic investment to improve the socioeconomic status here.

“That would come from outside industries,” Tilley said.

“Do I think that natural gas, if it exists, would be a viable industry that could improve socioeconomics in this region? Absolutely,” Tilley said.

“I think it would lift a lot of boats. If it were oil, I’m not sure there is any real difference.”

Congressman Tom Rice (SC-07) supports the seismic testing.

“After years of waiting to explore our country’s energy resources, I am glad the Obama Administration has decided to reopen the Eastern Seaboard for offshore energy testing and has taken special precautions to protect marine mammals,” said.

“If we can safely harness energy off our shores and coastal states are guaranteed input, this is something we should carefully consider.”

To comment about the seismic surveys, use this Bureau of Ocean Energy Management link:

http://www.boem.gov/Five-Year-Program-2017-2022/.

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