July 01–Newly proposed rules that will govern how oil companies use air gun blasts to search for oil in the Gulf of Mexico have sparked continued debate between industry and environmental groups.
The proposed regulations stem from the Trump administration’s executive order last year that seeks to streamline permits and reduce bureaucratic delays for offshore oil and gas drilling. It’s part of the administration’s larger push to open more waters off the nation’s coasts to oil exploration and production.
Environmentalists say the proposed seismic-testing rules proposed by NOAA Fisheries, which apply to all of the Gulf’s federal waters, will endanger marine life.
“The Gulf of Mexico is already saturated with thousands of oil wells that endanger wildlife. Compounding that damage by blasting endangered whales with deafening seismic blasts is excessive and cruel,” Kristen Monsell, ocean legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a news release. “We need to transition away from dirty fossil fuels and offshore oil spills, not ramp up our dependence. Enough is enough.”
Seismic blasts can reach 250 decibels and travel hundreds of miles underwater. By comparison, a jet engine taking off produces 140 decibels. Environmentalists contend the blasts can cause hearing loss in marine mammals, disturb essential behaviors such as feeding and breeding over vast distances, mask communications among whales and among dolphins, and reduce catch rates of commercial fish.
NOAA Fisheries’ proposed permitting rules would allow up to 2.1 million instances of harm or injury to marine mammals in the Gulf over five years, the group contends. Among them are endangered sperm whales and Bryde’s whales, whose population has dwindled to 33.
Industry officials have long cited federal and university studies that have found no evidence the air gun blasts, used for decades in the Gulf, have harmed marine life. They say they are pushing for clear and reasonable guidance on seismic testing, one of the first steps to determine how much oil is below the nation’s oceans.
The American Petroleum Institute last month formed a coalition of business and industry groups, political leaders and other allies from coastal states to push for drilling in the eastern Gulf and off the East Coast, areas now off limits under federal law. Explore Offshore is co-chaired by former Navy secretary and former Democratic Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson.
“America needs to correct a timeworn oversight and modernize the unnecessarily restrictive approach to the exploration and safe development of oil and national gas resources that lie offshore,” Webb said in a news release. “Technology, drilling techniques and industry standards have all changed greatly since these restrictions were put into place. Our national policies should mirror the significant advances that have been made in these areas, for the good of our national security and of our economy.”
NOAA Fisheries is accepting public comment on the rules, called “incidental take regulations,” through Aug. 21. You can view the rules and related documents or submit comments at bit.ly/2018GulfRules. The link accompanies this story at houmatoday.com and dailycomet.com.
— Executive Editor Keith Magill can be reached at 857-2201 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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