Pallone to Interior Secretary: Stop Seismic Airgun Testing in the Atlantic
Washington, DC – At a House Natural Resources Committee hearing today, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), expressed his strong opposition to offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean to Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell. Pallone, a senior member of the committee, urged the Department of the Interior (DOI) to consider abandoning any plans to drill in the Atlantic.
The DOI is currently deciding whether seismic airgun testing should be allowed to search for offshore oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean. As the first major step toward offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic, the proposed area for seismic airgun testing spans seven states from Delawareto Florida. Seismic airguns are towed behind ships and shoot loud blasts of compressed air through the water miles into the seabed to search for oil and gas deposits. These airguns make intense pulses of sound, almost as loud as explosives, every ten seconds, 24 hours a day, for days to weeks on end.
Pallone challenged Secretary Jewell on the environmental review that the Department is carrying out to determine if such testing will hurt marine mammals and interfere with fishing.
“The Department’s draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) estimates that 138,500 marine mammals will be injured or killed by this testing over the course of eight years and over 13 million more disturbed,” said Pallone. “Yet, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is currently working on developing new acoustic guidelines for assessing the effects of sound on marine mammals that are likely to increase the current estimates for disturbances to vital behaviors of marine mammals. It would seem that these new guidelines would be very relevant to the final EIS your department is compiling. Since any Final EIS that does not include these new acoustic guidelines would be severely flawed, will you commit to waiting until these new guidelines are published and finalized before issuing a Final EIS on this matter?”
The Secretary said that she would consider Pallone’s request to postpone the Final EIS, review the matter, and get back to the Congressman.
Pallone also asked why the negative impacts of seismic testing had only been investigated for marine mammals. He suggested that fish would also be impacted.
“Commercial and recreational fishing off the mid- and southeast Atlantic generates $11.8 billion annually and supports 222,000 jobs,” said Pallone. “Meanwhile, airgun noise has been demonstrated to depress catch rates of several commercial fish species by some 40-80 percent. For this reason and others, the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council has formally objected to DOI’s plan to open up the Atlantic to seismic exploration. And yet you haven’t done anything in the Draft EIS to reduce harm from seismic exploration to fish and fisheries. What am I supposed to tell the fishing community in my state?”
The Secretary responded that she was not certain as to why the impact of fisheries was not taken into consideration but would consider the issue and respond with more details.
“Finally, I want to let you know that Sandy Hook, a national park at the Jersey Shore that is near and dear to my heart, is an important economic driver for New Jersey and needs attention from your Department. The park was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, and I must commend the hard working National Park employees that got the park up and running before Memorial Day weekend,” said Pallone. “Yet, there are still many aspects of the park that need attention, such as Fort Hancock, a National Historic Landmark, which has been allowed to slowly degrade into a shameful sight. I would simply ask if you would ensure that the Department gives this truly wonderful park the attention it deserves and come tour the park with me sometime soon.”
The Secretary responded that she had been to the region, although not to Sandy Hook, and would work with Pallone on ensuring that full recovery from Sandy is achieved and that historical resources, such as Fort Hancock, are preserved.