Pallone Seeks Public Hearing on Seismic Testing in Atlantic

May 11, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) sent a letter to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries requesting a public hearing on proposed seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean that could potentially be used to open the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas exploration. Pallone also asked that the pending applications for seismic testing before NOAA be denied. Pallone worked relentlessly to remove drilling in the Atlantic from the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program and in March the Department of the Interior announced that it had removed the Atlantic from the proposal.

“An environmentally sound coast is critical to New Jersey’s economy, and I remain concerned with any activity that could lead to oil and gas drilling off our coast,” said Congressman Pallone. “The communities that will be impacted by this testing deserve the opportunity to voice their opinion on this crucial issue. Any proposal to conduct seismic surveying in the Atlantic Ocean must be reviewed with the utmost care and diligence.  Otherwise, we risk injuring and disturbing critically endangered species and threatening the Jersey shore, a center of recreational and economic use.”

Congressman Pallone, an outspoken critic of seismic testing and drilling off the Atlantic Coast due to its potential threat to New Jersey’s shoreline, stated that a public hearing was necessary so that residents have sufficient time to voice their concerns regarding the testing.  Pallone also stressed the need for additional time in order to evaluate the application and determine what implications the seismic surveying may have for the New Jersey coast.

The letter can be found below and attached:

 

Eileen Sobeck
Assistant Administrator for Fisheries
NOAA Fisheries
National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Dear Assistant Administrator Sobeck:

I write in regards to pending applications to conduct geologic and geophysical activities (i.e. seismic testing) in the Atlantic Ocean.  I am deeply concerned about the prospect of seismic testing being conducted within the Atlantic, and the damage such testing could cause to our coastal communities, both environmentally and economically.  While I encourage NOAA Fisheries to go forward with its plans for a public comment period, I am respectfully requesting NOAA Fisheries to also hold a public hearing on the applications it is currently considering.

As you know, NOAA Fisheries is conducting a review of several Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) applications by companies that have applied for permits with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to conduct seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean.  BOEM cannot issue these permits unless NOAA Fisheries approves these IHA applications.

Seismic testing involves using large, seismic airguns, towed behind ships, to fire loud blasts of air at the ocean floor. The soundwaves produced by these blasts are reflected back to the surface, and measured to determine whether oil, gas, or other minerals are present under the ocean.  These blasts can be repeated every 10 seconds.

If the applications are approved by both NOAA Fisheries and BOEM, these companies would be allowed to conduct seismic testing on an unprecedented scale in areas inhabited by both commercially important fisheries and endangered species.  The cumulative and direct effects on marine mammals and other marine wildlife could be severe.  Seismic testing can disrupt migratory patterns, cause marine wildlife to abandon important habitats, and disrupt mating and feeding.  The soundwave blasts can also destroy fish eggs and larvae.  Additionally, seismic testing can cause deafness in whales and dolphins, both of which rely on hearing to reproduce, locate food, and communicate.

The potential damage to marine life should concern New Jersey coastal communities.  Tourism and recreational and commercial fishing are important economic drivers for the Jersey Shore. Even though the pending applications would only allow seismic testing in regions of the Mid- and South Atlantic Planning Areas, the testing could hurt fisheries and other marine wildlife that are important to New Jersey. 

NOAA Fisheries should reject these IHA applications.  Doing so would highlight the need to protect the Atlantic Ocean.  Indeed, it would be puzzling for NOAA Fisheries to approve these IHA applications mere months after the Department of the Interior recognized the importance of protecting the Atlantic Ocean by removing it from its 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

That is why I am respectfully requesting NOAA Fisheries to hold a public hearing on these pending IHA applications.  Coastal communities, especially those who depend on commercial and recreational fisheries, should have an opportunity to voice their concerns about these permits beings issued.  Environmental groups should have an official forum to present their research into the harmful effects of seismic testing on marine mammals, fish, and other wildlife.  Having a place for these, and other, important stakeholders to present their objections is important to ensuring a transparent process.

I look forward to your reply.

                                                           

Sincerely,

                                                           

                                                            ________________________
                                                                        FRANK PALLONE, JR.
                                                                        MEMBER OF CONGRESS