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Delaware environmental groups oppose seismic blasting, offshore drilling

Courtesy of NRDC
A ship towing an airgun array.

Delaware environmental groups say they’re worried about how seismic testing will affect marine life and state tourism.




The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a draft authorization earlier this week for companies to disturb marine life while conducting seismic airgun blasting to search for oil and gas. 


Seismic airgun blasting can find oil and gas deposits by shooting a loud blast of air through water. Suzanne Thurman, the executive director of the Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute, said that sound could be louder than a jet engine, and the noise could harm marine animals like whales and sea turtles. 


“They use sound to find food, to navigate, to stay in contact with their social groups and their young, and this level of blasting will cause permanent hearing loss,” Thurman said.


Whale calves use sound to stay connected to their mother, and a calf cannot survive without its mother, Thurman said. 


This seismic testing is the first step toward offshore drilling for oil and gas. Oceana’s Mid-Atlantic campaign organizer Caroline Wood said her group thinks it’s unnecessary. Damage caused by drilling or oil spills could jeopardize the recreation and fishing on Delaware’s coast that fuel the state’s tourism industry, she said.


“All of those things depend on the things that already exist in the ocean and keeping that ocean clean and healthy,” Wood said. 


John Doerfler, the chair of Delaware’s chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, agreed, saying the First State’s $3 billion tourism industry depends heavily on ocean activity, recreation and tourism along the coast.


“The oceans are our forests, and if somebody was saying they were going to be blasting cannons at one of our woodlands during deer season, hundreds would be up in arm. It’s no different. We shouldn’t be doing this,” Doerfler said. 


NOAA’s announcement this week kicked off a 30 day public comment period which ends July 6. After that, they’ll either allow or deny five companies to search for oil along the coast from Delaware to Florida.


Thurman said the MERR Institute hopes to join alongside other environmental conservation groups in bringing a forum to Delaware to spark a conversation about seismic blasting and offshore drilling.

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