Sonic Cannons, Used For Oil And Gas Exploration, Approved By Obama

by The Associated Press, Posted: 07/18/2014 10:14 am EDT ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla. - Opening the Eastern Seaboard to offshore oil exploration for the first time in decades, the Obama administration on Friday approved the use of sonic cannons to discover deposits under the ocean floor by shooting sound waves 100 times louder than a jet engine through waters shared by endangered whales and turtles.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s approval of this technology’s use off the U.S. East Coast is the first step toward identifying new oil and gas deposits in federal waters from Florida to Delaware. Energy companies need this detailed information as they prepare to apply for drilling leases in 2018 if the government reopens the area, as expected.

“The bureau has identified a path forward that addresses the need to update the nearly four-decade-old data in the region while protecting marine life and cultural sites,” acting BOEM Director Walter Cruickshank said in a statement. “The bureau’s decision reflects a carefully analyzed and balanced approach that will allow us to increase our understanding of potential offshore resources while protecting the human, marine, and coastal environments.”

The sonic cannons are already in use in the western Gulf of Mexico, off Alaska and other offshore oil operations around the world. They are towed behind boats, sending strong pulses of sound into the ocean every 10 seconds or so. The pulses reverberate beneath the sea floor and bounce back to the surface, where they are measured by hydrophones. Computers then translate the data into high resolution, three-dimensional images.

“It’s like a sonogram of the earth,” said Andy Radford, a petroleum engineer at the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas trade association in Washington. “You can’t see the oil and gas, but you can see the structures in the earth that might hold oil and gas.”

The sonic cannons are often fired continually for weeks or months, and multiple mapping projects are expected to be operating simultaneously as companies gather competitive, secret data. Whale-spotting observers will be required onboard, but the sounds — which water amplifies by orders of magnitude — pose real dangers for whales, fish and sea turtles that also use sound to communicate across hundreds of miles.

More than 120,000 people or groups sent comments to the government, which held hearings and spent years developing these rules. The bureau’s environmental impact study estimates that more than 138,000 sea creatures could be harmed, including nine of the 500 north Atlantic right whales remaining in the world.

Of foremost concern are endangered species like these whales, which give birth off the shores of northern Florida and southern Georgia before migrating north each year. Since the cetaceans are so scarce, any impact from this intense noise pollution on feeding or communications could have long-term effects, Scott Kraus, a right whale expert at the John H. Prescott Marine Laboratory in Boston, said.

“No one has been allowed to test anything like this on right whales,” Kraus said of the seismic cannons. “(The Obama administration) has authorized a giant experiment on right whales that this country would never allow researchers to do.”


Opposition mounts to seismic testing for Atlantic oil and gas reserves

By Sue Sturgis on

This Sunday, April 20 marks four years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster began unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and setting off an 87-day gusher that dumped an estimated 200 million gallons of oil into the coastal ecosystem.

Though fishermen say catches are still down due to the environmental damage caused by the spill, BP is back in action in the Gulf. Last month it reached an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lifting the ban that kept it from signing new drilling deals. Less than a week later, the company emerged as the highest bidder for 24 of the Gulf blocks on sale.

With a return to business as usual for Big Oil in the Gulf of Mexico, the industry is now pressing to open up the southeastern Atlantic Coast to exploration – but it’s meeting growing resistance from local communities that would be most directly affected by expanded drilling.

The first step toward oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic is seismic testing, which involves using air guns to shoot compacted air to the ocean floor, creating sound waves used to map undersea reserves. But the practice, which is currently banned in the Atlantic, raises serious environmental and economic concerns, as it’s known to cause injuries to marine life anddamage fisheries.

The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are among those calling to allow seismic testing to proceed off their coasts. They appear to have won the support of the Department of Interior, which in February published an environmental analysis that endorses seismic exploration for an area stretching from Delaware to Florida.

But a growing number of coastal cities and town have passed resolutions opposing seismic testing. They are Cape Canaveral, Fla.; Cocoa Beach, Fla.; Carolina Beach, N.C.; Nags Head, N.C.; Bradley Beach, N.J.; and Red Bank, N.J. In addition, the city of St. Augustine Beach, Fla. voted unanimously to oppose seismic testing and wrote a letter to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management expressing its opposition, while Caswell Beach, N.C. approved a resolution expressing concern about seismic testing.

Meanwhile, 110 state and local elected officials signed onto a letter sent this week to President Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell opposing seismic testing. The signatories include mayors, city council members, county commissioners and state lawmakers from Delaware, Florida, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia. Oceana, a conservation advocacy group that’s involved in the fight against seismic testing, expects more local officials to join the opposition in the coming weeks.

“We urge your administration to stop this process and focus on ensuring the vitality of vulnerable coastal economies along the Atlantic Coast,” the letter stated. “We cannot continue to put our ocean environment, beaches, marine resources, and coastal economies at risk.”

The elected leaders join 155 representatives of conservation and animal welfare groups that have also signed onto a letter to Obama and Jewell opposing seismic testing and calling for a transition to a clean renewable energy future.

As part of its ongoing campaign against Atlantic drilling, Oceana this week conducted what it calls a “nighttime visual projection demonstration” in Washington, D.C. The group teamed up with The Illuminator – a cargo van equipped with video projection equipment – to display the phrases “#STOPTHEDRILL” and “DRILL SPILL REPEAT?” on government buildings including Union Station, the Postal Museum, and the National Gallery of Art.

“When it comes to offshore drilling in the U.S. one overarching theme stands out – Drill, Spill, Repeat,” said Claire Douglass, Oceana’s campaign director. “Offshore drilling is no safer than it was four year ago, yet President Obama is taking steps to expand this dirty and dangerous industry to the Atlantic. If the President would simply stop to listen, he would hear that coastal communities have no interest in turning the East Coast into a blast zone.”


Atlantic Geological and Geophysical (G&G) Activities Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS)

BOEM is producing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) to evaluate potential significant environmental effects of multiple geological and geophysical (G&G) activities on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The PEIS follows through on that direction as prescribed by the Conference Report for Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Act, 2010. The proposed action is to permit G&G activities in support of oil and gas exploration and development, renewable energy, and marine minerals in the Mid- and South Atlantic Planning Areas. We and other responsible agencies will use the PEIS to comply with various environmental laws (e.g., Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act).

Our goal at BOEM has always been to provide factual, reliable, and clear analytical statements in order to inform decisionmakers and the public about the environmental effects of proposed OCS activities and their alternatives.

BOEM is issuing this PEIS to describe and evaluate the potential environmental impacts of G&G survey activities in Federal waters of the Mid- and South Atlantic OCS and adjacent State waters. The PEIS examines G&G survey activities for three program areas (oil and gas, renewable energy, and marine minerals) for activity levels projected between 2012 and 2020. The PEIS evaluates impacts to Atlantic resources that could occur as a result of G&G activities, and identifies mitigation and monitoring measures to avoid, reduce, or minimize impacts.

The PEIS was prepared upon direction of the Congress because BOEM currently has no programmatic NEPA coverage for permitting G&G activities in Atlantic OCS waters. BOEM has received several permit requests for seismic airgun surveys in support of oil and gas exploration, and industry has expressed interest in expanding activities into Atlantic offshore waters. The PEIS establishes a framework for future NEPA evaluations of site-specific actions, while identifying and analyzing mitigation measures for future programmatic use.

The purpose of the proposed action is to gather state-of-the-practice data about the ocean bottom and subsurface. These data would provide information about the location and extent of oil and gas reserves, seafloor conditions for oil and gas or renewable energy installations, and marine minerals deposits off the U.S. Atlantic coast. State-of-the-practice G&G data and information are required for business decisions in furtherance of prospecting for OCS oil and gas in an orderly manner, assessing sites for renewable energy facilities, or using marine mineral resources in the area. The G&G quality of data in surveys acquired during the period when Atlantic oil and gas leasing took place in the 1970’s and 1980’s has been eclipsed by newer instrumentation and technology that make seismic data of that era inadequate for business decisions to lease and develop these OCS lands or to evaluate the environmental impacts of leasing and development.

The need for the proposed action is to use the information obtained by G&G surveys to make informed business decisions regarding oil and gas reserves, engineering decisions regarding the construction of renewable energy projects, and informed estimates regarding the composition and volume of marine mineral resources. This information would also be used to ensure the proper use and conservation of OCS energy resources and the receipt of fair market value for the leasing of public lands.

Read the impact statements here:


Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Atlantic OCS Proposed Geological and Geophysical Activities in the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic Planning Areas

Area of Potential Impact: Offshore Marine Environment and Coastal Counties of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida

Even if acoustic sounding is done safely and minimal damage is done to our southern marine ecosystems, the intention is to drill which inevitably leads to accidents.

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