Oil drilling along the Atlantic Coast of the United States has been discontinued since the early 1980s. The Obama Administration had recently considered opening the coast of Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas to drilling, but, under pressure from local and environmental opposition, decided against the move. Though there are no imminent plans to lease the Atlantic shoreline to oilmen, the Obama Administration has approved the use of “seismic airgun testing” in prospective offshore oil territory. These tests, designed to determine the presence of oil or natural gas below the seabed, could disrupt already threatened marine life and interfere with their abilities to mate and eat.
The specific sites for seismic airgun testing are currently in review, though the potentially impacted area spans from Delaware to Florida. The tests involve the generation of loud and powerful seismic waves that are aimed at the ocean floor. The echoes from these waves are then used to determine whether a large cache of fossil fuels is buried down below. Marine scientist Douglas Nowacek described the experience of such a seismic impact as akin to being at “the epicenter of a grenade blast” so forceful that it “would easily cause the rupture of the human eardrum.” Concerned citizens question why these tests are being done at all. “Since the Atlantic has been removed from drilling for the next five years, there’s no immediate need for companies to prospect for oil and gas in this way,” says Dr. Ingrid Biedron, marine scientist at Oceana. “We’d encourage them, and the government, to wait until there is safer technology available before going ahead with this.”
Even if the testing is conducted, certain safety measures, already in use in the Gulf of Mexico, could be applied to protect wildlife. The airguns could gradually be brought to full power, which allows disturbed animals to leave the area, while monitors ensure that the coast is clear. A controlled schedule of blasts and limiting their strength could also limit the testing’s ecological damage.
The Obama Administration’s recent dance with offshore oil in the Atlantic is not its first dip in the deep. In March 2010, President Obama announced that the Mid-Atlantic and South-Atlantic coasts would once again be open for oil and gas extraction. Following the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster from April 2010 through July 2010, the reactionary White House announced that it would ban all Atlantic drilling through 2017. The Administration’s decision to continue with the seismic airgun testing suggests it is thinking of the future, when the next president will decide whether to drill.
Via The Guardian