In a move welcomed up and down the East Coast today, a federal agency denied permits for Atlantic seismic blasting, a precursor to offshore oil and gas drilling.
Seismic airgun blasting—used to survey the ocean floor for oil and gas deposits—has drawn intense opposition from coastal communities as it is seen as a prelude to the drilling they’ve rejected.
“Today’s decision shows that the U.S. government is listening to coastal residents, businesses, and local governments by halting seismic testing, which is a means to one end: offshore drilling,” said Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver. “There’s absolutely no reason to allow seismic testing, harmful on its own, when the Atlantic coast has overwhelmingly rejected offshore drilling.”
Ever since the announcement in August that all of the Atlantic would be removed from the federal government’s five-year lease sale for offshore drilling, drilling opponents have known the threat of seismic testing lingered. Today’s decision removes that threat.
Seismic testing works by firing powerful air guns for days or weeks at a time. The seismic blasts have been known to travel more than a thousand miles through the ocean, potentially disorienting, hurting, deafening, or even killing nearby marine life. Seismic blasts also drive away fish, drastically cutting commercial fishing production.
In addition, companies were hoping to conduct seismic testing off the coast of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, the only known calving ground for the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale. More than two dozen respected marine biologists recently said when it comes to the right whale, seismic blasting “may well represent a tipping point for the survival of this endangered whale, contributing significantly in a decline towards extinction.”
Seismic testing carries this harm without providing precise information about oil deposits and amounts. To definitively know how much oil is available for drilling, companies need to drill exploratory wells. Exploratory drilling is the riskiest offshore oil activity and what was taking place when the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico occurred, with the harm to that region still unfolding.
“The same concerns that made offshore drilling a bad idea apply to seismic testing—the drop in oil prices, the relatively small amounts of oil and gas believed to be under the Atlantic, and strong local, bipartisan opposition,” said Weaver. “We’re still going to have work to do to protect our coast from the Trump administration, but this is a great day for the Atlantic.”