December 1, 2018
For immediate release
Chapel Hill: The Trump administration has won this month’s “Noisy Dozen” from Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet for granting permission to five oil and gas companies to use seismic air guns in the search for potential oil and gas reserves off the Atlantic coast, from Florida to New Jersey. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will allow the companies to “incidentally but not intentionally harass marine mammals” while searching for fossil fuels in the seabed.
In 2017, the seismic blasting proposal was rejected by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, as it was deemed unsafe for marine life. Unfortunately, a recent review by NOAA concluded that “the blasts could be done without significantly threatening the population status of threatened or endangered species.”
The Guardian notes that “by the federal government’s own estimates, airgun testing could harm hundreds of thousands of marine mammals such as dolphins and whales. Of particular concern is the endangered North Atlantic right whale, with only around 440 individuals left, including less than 100 breeding females. Scientists have warned that the extreme disruption caused by airguns can harm a wide range of aquatic life, including sea turtles, fish and zooplankton, a critical foundational plank of the ocean food web.” Studies indicate that “noise from the airgun blasts can travel to 2,500 miles” and can “cause major problems for certain animals as they try to navigate or breed.” The airgun blasts fire every ten seconds, around the clock, for months at a time, notes Doug Nowacek, a professor of marine conservation technology at Duke University.
Each seismic shot from the air guns “is estimated to reach up to 260 decibels,” which is unimaginably loud. According to Professor Nowacek, “at any one time, there are 20, 30, or 40 seismic surveys going on around the world” for oil and exploration and geological research. As a result of the Trump administration’s authorization, “more than five million of these huge explosions would occur” all along the Eastern coastline of the United States.
Dr. Christopher Clark is a senior researcher with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who has studied whale communication for 40 years. He describes the noise from the acoustic blasts a “living hell” for undersea life.
Steve Mashuda, managing attorney for oceans at EarthJustice, stated that “seismic airgun surveys pose a dual threat to the biologically rich waters off the Atlantic coast. Their continuous blasts can injure and deafen whales, dolphins, and other marine life, and they are the sonic harbingers of even greater risks associated with eventual offshore oil and gas drilling.”
According to Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana, an ocean conservation group, “Trump is essentially giving these companies permission to harass, harm, and possibly even kill marine life, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale—all in the pursuit of dirty and dangerous offshore oil.”
In December 2018, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, EarthJustice, Defenders of Wildlife, and several local environmental groups filed a lawsuit in South Carolina against the seismic airgun blasts, arguing that they violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The Trump administration’s authorization of seismic air guns will only make the growing problem of ocean noise even worse. The noise from “air guns, ship sonar, and general tanker traffic can cause the gradual or even outright death of sea creatures, from the giants to the tiniest—whales, dolphins, fish, squid, octopuses, and even plankton. Other effects include impairing animals’ hearing, brain hemorrhaging, and the drowning out of communication sounds for survival, experts say.”
The New York Times reports that “so great is the growing din in the world’s oceans that experts fear it is fundamentally disrupting the marine ecosystem, diminishing populations of some species as the noise levels disturb feeding, reproduction, and social behavior.”
Ted Rueter, director of Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet, commented that “excessive noise is everywhere—on the land, in the skies, and in the oceans. Noise is very damaging to marine mammals and humans. While I am glad to see mainstream environmental groups showing concern about the effect of excessive noise on dolphins and whales, I would like to see them show an equal level of concern for the effect of loud noise on human beings.”
To protest NOAA’s decision, please contact:
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere
Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet is a national citizens’ organization opposed to excessive noise. Past “winners” of the Noisy Dozen award include the DC Metro system, the FAA, and Senator Richard Burr.