Delaware Public Media

Environmentalists worry about possible offshore seismic testing

Mar 31, 2016

Though President Obama has scrapped plans for offshore drilling in the Atlantic, environmentalists remain concerned about possible seismic testing in offshore areas from Delaware to Florida.

Seismic airguns are used to look for oil, gas and renewable energy resources under the ocean floor and can produce loud noises that can be heard up to 2,500 miles away.

An environmental review released two years ago by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said that the airgun blasts would have a “moderate” impact on marine life.

This week, Oceana released a series of maps showing the locations of proposed seismic surveys would overlap with territories of threatened whale species and critical fish habitats.

Oceana campaign director Claire Douglass says there’s research that shows this activity can cause a 40 to 80 percent drop in catch rate for some commercial species.

 

“It’s important to know if you expect a decreased catch rate, that’s going to affect your bottom line and your business," said Douglass. "And that’s what we’re trying to avoid in stopping these permits [for seismic airgun testing] from moving forward.”

 

Marine scientists are also worried about how the blasts will disrupt marine life, as many of them depend on sound to find food. Douglass noted that one species of concern is the North Atlantic right whale, which has only about 500 animals left in its population.

 

 

“If you’re putting additional stressors on these marine species, they can add up and really harm entire populations so that’s something scientists, agencies and NGOs in trying to help protect these important species," she said.

 

It’s uncertain when or if these eight permits to allow seismic testing will be approved by the federal government. Beach towns up and down the Delaware coast have passed resolutions opposing it.

Last spring, DNREC Secretary David Small wrote to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, saying that seismic testing shouldn’t be allowed if Delaware’s offshore waters weren’t going to be subject to drilling in the next five years.