For decades, laws have protected coastal waters and coastlines from seismic testing to find oil deposits and soon, these laws could soon disappear.
Prior to drilling, oil companies need to find oil wells in the waters by firing intense seismic blasts repeatedly into the ocean. Environmental rules are currently in place to protect whales and other marine life from the practice and have limited the location and frequency of the blasts which have prevented the oil companies from exploring, and therefore operating off much of the nation’s coastlines.
There are currently two bills making its way through Congress that supporters of the bill claim would create jobs, reduce permitting delays, and clear the way for naval activities and coastal restoration.
Not all view the bill this as environmentalists are calling it a thinly veiled oil industry wish list that would upend established protections and fast-track the permitting process for oil exploration of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
The two bills, named the Streamlining Environmental Approvals (Sea Act) and Strengthening the Economy with Critical Untapped Resources to Expand American Energy (Secure Act) have already passed committee approval and are set to head to the house for vote.
The bill would directly revoke laws set in place by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which regulate the seismic blasts. According to scientists, the noise can disorient and damage the hearing of whales and dolphins to the point they lose their ability to navigate and reproduce.
The laws are being brought forth after Trump’s executive order last year, which reversed an Obama decision that had denied six companies seeking permits to conduct testing in the Atlantic.
Not all Republicans have been supportive of expanded testing as many are in direct conflict to their coastal districts do not support offshore drilling.
Congressman John Rutherford (R-Fla.) released a bipartisan letter last year that said seismic testing posed a direct threat to economies that rely on fishing, tourism and recreation.
“We hear from countless business owners, elected officials and residents along our coasts who recognize and reject the risks of offshore oil and gas development,” the letter, signed by dozens of Congress members, said. “It harms our coastal economies in the near term and opens the door to even greater risks from offshore oil and gas production down the road.”
When seismic surveying is underway, the noise sounds like bombs going off every 10 seconds under the surface of the water and can be hear as far as 1,500 miles away.
A number of species are directly threatened by the testing, including the blue whales that visit California’s coast and the North Atlantic right whales which are on the verge of extinction after a year of no newborn whales.
Research has shown that by analyzing whale’s behavior, scientists have found that blasts can throw off their ability to locate food, avoid predators and find mates. Oil and gas supporters say the research isn’t conclusive and that the best available science does not indicate that surveying damages the overall marine population.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act — signed by President Nixon in 1972, at a time when protecting marine life from overfishing and overhunting was a priority across party lines — makes it illegal to harm or kill a whale, dolphin, seal, manatee, sea otter or polar bear without a permit, even if done inadvertently.
Currently, obtaining a seismic testing permit can take years and requires companies to show their operation will have the “least practicable impact” on only “small numbers” of animals.
The SEA Act drops the “small numbers” and “least practicable impact” conditions, and requires automatic approval of a permit if the review is not completed within 120 days. It deletes the requirement for a permit to be contained within a specific geographic region, expanding it to most anywhere off any coast.
Many advocate groups including Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, Ocean Conservation Research, Greenpeace USA, Surfrider Foundation and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations have declared the new bills a direct conflict in protecting our marine life and puts protected species in jeopardy.
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, said the regulation currently in place is “not a broken system” and has protected marine life while also allowing some seismic testing.
Since the Marine Mammal Protection Act was enacted 46 years ago, no marine mammal has gone extinct in U.S. waters.
If passed, these new laws would create a dramatically different landscape in marine protection and have the possibility of running decades of advancement in marine conservation.
To tell Congress not to support the potential laws, let them know on our Change.org petition.