Dem waves air gun as panel clashes over seismic testing Published: Wednesday, July 19, 2017
A House Natural Resources panel clashed yesterday over the question of whether loud sounds from seismic air gun surveying for oil and gas deposits beneath the oceans can damage marine mammals.
California Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman said the blasts of up to 120 decibels, repeated every 10 to 12 seconds, have "an enormous and obvious impact" and should not be allowed under federal law.
Holding an air gun to make his point, Huffman said: "It can be heard up to a mile away. It's only a little bit less loud than a jet engine at takeoff."
Offering a sarcastic response, Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert said marine mammals "are suffering from one of the most egregious things that is being allowed to happen" — forced to listen to thunderclaps that also register at 120 decibels.
"Thunder in the clouds — we've got to find a way to stop it, because it is wreaking havoc and doing enormous damage," Gohmert said.
"Would the gentleman identify a marine mammal that lives in the clouds, please?" asked Huffman.
"I don't live in the clouds of some of my friends," replied Gohmert.
The exchange came as the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on the effects of federal natural resources laws that critics say have "gone astray."
Opponents took aim at two landmark laws yesterday: the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act and the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act.
Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, the panel's chairman, said both laws "had stretched beyond Congress' original intent."
Witnesses told lawmakers that the laws had been abused and should be changed.
Patty Brandt, a member of a group called Keep Eastmoreland Free in Portland, Ore., said neighborhood groups have applied to be recognized as historic districts as a way to curb development or renovations. She said decisions of what's historic can be arbitrary and should not be made by the federal government.
"I believe that these discussions and decisions are best managed at the local level," Brandt said.
Nikki Martin, president of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, a trade association, said seismic testing is "well understood and safe."
"To date, there has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from acoustic sources used in seismic activities adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities," Martin said.
Virginia Democratic Rep. Donald McEachin, the panel's ranking member, said lawmakers were getting "an incomplete picture" because the list of witnesses included no one from the Trump administration. And he said the panel should be focused on climate change instead of "attacking our environmental protections."
"Climate change is not just coming — it's here," he said.
Last month, a bipartisan group of more than 100 members of Congress asked the Trump administration not to allow seismic air gun surveying for oil and gas development. In a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, they criticized a White House proposal to allow five companies to use air guns to search for offshore deposits in the Atlantic Ocean (Greenwire, June 29).
Huffman noted that President Trump's 2018 budget plan called for the elimination of the Marine Mammal Commission, the agency that's best equipped to advise Congress on such issues.
He took issue with Martin's testimony that seismic testing was safe and told the panel he'd be willing to discharge the air gun to show members how loud it was.
"Would you like me to sound off this air gun actually every 10 to 12 seconds?" Huffman asked Martin. "Do you think your testimony would benefit from that?"
"Congressman, I appreciate the prop," Martin replied.
Westerman warned Huffman not to discharge the air gun.
"I'll remind the gentleman that it would be a violation of House decorum," he said.