At­lantic Boaters May Soon En­counter Seis­mic Blast­ing, Off­shore Drilling

Soundings - - Focus - By Kim Kavin

In early Jan­uary, on his way out of the Oval Of­fice, Pres­i­dent Obama de­nied a half-dozen per­mits to com­pa­nies that wanted to search for oil and gas de­posits be­neath the At­lantic. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists cel­e­brated the move. Ti­tans of the en­ergy in­dus­try fumed. Pres­i­dent Trump has re­versed Obama’s stance, a de­ci­sion that crit­ics say could have long-term, wide-rang­ing and po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects on boaters, marine life, coastal com­mu­ni­ties, com­mer­cial fish­er­men and more.

In early June, the ad­min­is­tra­tion took steps to­ward let­ting as many as five com­pa­nies search for en­ergy de­posits along the seafloor from Delaware Bay to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Their work could start as early as this au­tumn with seis­mic blast­ing, a tech­nique that pro­duces one of the loud­est sounds hu­mans put into the ocean and that serves as a pre­cur­sor to off­shore drilling wher­ever promis­ing fields are found.

En­vi­ron­men­tal and sci­en­tific groups, coastal busi­nesses, com­mer­cial fish­ing in­ter­ests and oth­ers are de­cry­ing the plan. More than 100 mem­bers of the U.S. Congress — Democrats and Repub­li­cans — sent a let­ter of ob­jec­tion to In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke. They wrote that seis­mic blast­ing and off­shore drilling jeop­ar­dize coastal busi­nesses, tourism, fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties and na­tional se­cu­rity. “We im­plore you not to is­sue any per­mits for seis­mic air gun sur­veys for sub­sea oil and gas de­posits in the At­lantic Ocean,” states the let­ter.

Off­shore drilling has long pit­ted en­ergy com­pa­nies and their work­ers, who can earn higher salar­ies on rigs than on land, against peo­ple who say the in­dus­try’s risks to wildlife and coastal com­mu­ni­ties are sim­ply too dan­ger­ous to con­sider. In Florida, for in­stance, law­mak­ers this past sum­mer tried to ex­tend a ban on off­shore drilling, hop­ing to pre­vent ev­ery­thing from oil-spill beach de­struc- tion to in­dus­trial views of rigs off pop­u­lar tourism spots, in­clud­ing Trump’s Mar-a-Lago re­sort in Palm Beach.

“The oil boys will not stop,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nel­son, a Demo­crat, told the Sun-Sen­tinel news­pa­per, pre­dict­ing that the cur­rent ef­fort is the be­gin­ning of more in­dus­try ex­pan­sion to come. “They think they have a friend in the White House, and this is the open­ing salvo.”

While rigs the size of the in­fa­mous Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon are eyesores that could af­fect boaters’ cov­eted views — as well as loom­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal catas­tro­phes, as that rig’s 2010 ex­plo­sion showed — the im­me­di­ate po­ten­tial harm of seis­mic blast­ing is more about sound. In seis­mic blast­ing, en­ergy- seek­ing com­pa­nies shoot air gun pulses deep into the sea. The sound waves bounce against rock, oil de­posits and gas de­posits in dif­fer­ent ways, then re­turn to the sur­face, where ex­perts use the data to de­ter­mine which sites are ideal for drilling.

Seis­mic air guns are loud. Blasts sent un­der­wa­ter are muted, much as a boat’s en­gine noise is muf­fled be­neath the sur­face, but can max out un­der­wa­ter around 180 deci­bels, ac­cord­ing to a Green­peace re­port. (For per­spec­tive, the det­o­na­tion of a pound of TNT reg­is­ters at 180 deci­bels, mea­sured from 15 feet away.) Even when dulled, the noise is be­lieved to be louder than a rock con­cert, fire­works or a space shut­tle launch.

“Fir­ing a stan­dard air gun ar­ray de­ployed be­hind a seis­mic sur­vey ves­sel gen­er­ates ap­prox­i­mately 250 to 260 deci­bels of sound,” Dou­glas Nowacek, a Duke Univer­sity sci­en­tist and pro­fes­sor, stated in tes­ti­mony be­fore the U.S. House Com­mit­tee on Nat­u­ral Re­sources. “And while it is dif­fi­cult to draw ex­act equiv­a­lents in air, th­ese lev­els ap­prox­i­mate the epi­cen­ter of a grenade blast and would eas­ily cause the rup­ture of the hu­man eardrum.”

Re­searchers found that seis­mic air gun blasts could be heard nearly 2,500 miles from the sur­vey ves­sel.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.