Big Oil Pushes to Blast Coasts; Marine Life at Risk

Feature story - May 26, 2005
While the heated debate on energy legislation rages in Congress, there’s one aspect of it that is quietly emerging as a serious threat to marine life in our oceans.

On May 26, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted 17-5 to allow an offshore oil and gas inventory to be conducted on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) of the U.S. coast.  This represents the first step to undermining and then removing the 24-year bipartisan offshore drilling moratorium that protects America's most sensitive coastal national treasures. In 2003, a marked up Senate bill also included an OCS inventory but eventually was dropped.

On Tuesday the full US Senate will now vote on whether or not to allow our coastline to be surveyed for oil and gas drilling, using dangerous seismic blasts.

At what cost?

The total cost of such a survey would approach $50 billion dollars for the entire OCS including Alaska and $20 billion for the continental United States alone(though many seismic surveys have already taken place in the Western Gulf of Mexico). This represents a huge subsidy for big oil that will benefit from the information that the government will fund.

The inventory would be conducted using destructive seismic survey ships which tow airguns that emit underwater explosions over thousands of miles along the coast.  These airguns have been implicated in causing permanent damage to the hearing of fish and mammals.

The Impact to the Creatures and Ecosystems Offshore

We've calculated how many seismic air cannon blasts it would actually take to survey the entire U.S. Outer Continental Shelf with 3-D seismic technology.  We found that surveying of the Outer Continental Shelf would result in millions of seismic cannon blasts into our coastal waters from testing vessels. The damage to marine mammals, fish, turtles and other sea creatures could be immeasurable.

Our research found that an average modern 3-D seismic survey requires a blast every 25 meters or every few seconds as the ship cruises along. Calculations based on this rate of seismic blasts find that it would take at least 285 million seismic blasts to inventory the entire OCS including Alaska, which would require 176 million blasts alone. Surveying the Pacific Coast OCS would take 40 million blasts, the Atlantic Coast OCS would require 43 million blasts and Florida's Gulf of Mexico coast OCS would take 12 million blasts.