8 Republicans Just Joined House Democrats To Oppose This Dangerous Offshore Testing

Jun 13, 2016 by

CREDIT: AP Photo/Bruce Smith, File

In this 2014 photo, a fisherman tries his luck on the pier at Folly Beach, near Charleston, S.C. Seismic testing would disrupt fish populations in the area.

Environmentalists rejoiced when the Obama administration’s five-year plan for ocean management cut out the possibility of offshore drilling in the Atlantic — but the fight is not over.

Now, lawmakers are urging the president not to allow seismic testing in the region. Seismic testing is used to find oil and gas reserves by bouncing loud blasts of sound off the ocean floor. Airguns get towed behind ships, using dynamite-like blasts to produce sound waves 100,000 times louder than a jet engine underwater every ten seconds. It has been shown to damage populations of fish, mammals, mollusks, and other sea life.

South Carolina’s Rep. Mark Sanford, a Republican, cowrote the letter with Virginia’s Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat.

“If one is not going to do something, it doesn’t strike me as reasonable to prepare to do that something. Accordingly, it makes little sense to conduct seismic testing off the Atlantic coast, when the Atlantic Ocean has been excluded as a possible site for offshore drilling by the Department of Interior,” Sanford said in a statement. “It should not move forward, if nothing else, because allowing seismic testing to proceed goes counter to the coastal communities I represent. They have spoken clearly that they do not want this blasting.”

The Fight Against Offshore Drilling That’s Unifying Towns Along The East Coast

This spring, the Atlantic coastal communities banded together to oppose offshore drilling, which was being considered for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s five-year plan, released in March, as well as seismic drilling. The Atlantic Ocean off Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia was being considered in the plan. Hundreds of municipalities in those states — including 100 percent of the coastline in Sanford’s South Carolina — passed motions opposing drilling and/or seismic testing.

While the Atlantic was cut out of the drilling plan, though, eight applications for seismic testing are currently awaiting federal approval. The National Marine Fisheries Service, part of NOAA, first must issue Incidental Harassment Authorizations. After a 30-day public comment period, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, will decide whether to issue permits.

“The fight to protect the Atlantic is not over, and we applaud Reps. Sanford and Connolly for their continued leadership to stop seismic airgun blasting,” Claire Douglass, a campaign director with Oceana, said in a statement. “Especially now that offshore drilling in the Atlantic is off the table, there is even less rationale to consider risking the damage that would be caused by seismic airgun blasting in the region.”

According to Douglass’ group, seismic testing could have serious repercussions for sea life as well as the seafood industry. Maps released in May showed an incredible overlap between the critical habitats of several endangered and seafood species and the area that would be affected by seismic testing.

Seismic blasts can be heard for up to 2,500 miles — or roughly the distance between Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas.

The Atlantic Won’t See Drilling Anytime Soon, But It Could Still See Harmful, Noisy Blasting

Significant portions of the habitats and breeding grounds for loggerhead turtles, right whales, swordfish, cod, wahoo, yellowfin tuna, and many other species would be impacted if the Obama administration approves permits for the testing. The entire breeding areas for loggerheads and the North Atlantic right whale are covered by the testing area.

Coastal communities are particularly concerned about the impact on livelihoods. Fishing and tourism (which often including recreational fishing and whale watching) are major parts of the Atlantic coast economy.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, a Republican from northwestern South Carolina and a “strong proponent” of seismic testing, told the Post and Courier that Sanford’s proximity to the coast was no reason to weigh his opinion more heavily.

“Does the outer continental shelf belong to Beaufort and Charleston?” Duncan said. “No, they belong to the United States of America. If the resources there could be harvested to benefit all Americans, why not?”

At least one study has shown that drilling in the Atlantic would not only be risky to the coastline, it would also bring $0 in economic benefit to the states.

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