Legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, who represents the northern parts of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, would make it easier for oil companies and coastal restoration projects to get environmental approval, but critics say it could harm to sea life.
Proponents of the bill say the Streamlining Environmental Approvals Act will cut away red tape and allow for much needed oil exploration and major projects to get off the ground despite concerns about seismic airgun technology.
“I have experienced first-hand the detrimental impacts of non-transparent and delayed decision making on the geophysical industry stemming from an outdated law, the (Marine Mammal Protection Act), which is currently being administered by agencies and exploited by advocacy groups in ways that were never envisioned by Congress,” Nikki Martin, president of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, said in a statement.
Martin said environmental groups’ opposition to oil exploration, primarily the use of seismic airgun technology in the process of exploration, is politicized by “extreme environmental groups” and the risk to marine mammals is extremely low.
There has been no evidence that it adversely affects marine animal populations or coastal communities, he added.
The loosening of regulations would potentially result in more activity in the local oil industry and allow for more companies to increase their oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, which could lead to more oil rigs being built to drill for oil.
Martin said oil will still be needed as global energy demand is projected to rise 48 percent by 2040, while renewable energy development is projected to take as least 30 to 40 years to become viable.
However, opponents say the legislation from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the National Marine Fisheries Service is misleading.
Lara Levison, the senior federal policy director for Oceana, a foundation dedicated to ocean advocacy, says there is proof that seismic airgun technology harms animals.
“The impetus for this bill comes from the geophysical industry. ... These seismic airguns shoot off very loud bursts of sound. They say there’s no harm to marine mammal populations,” Levison said.
Levison said there has been extensive scientific research showing that there are negative effects caused by these blasts not just to marine mammals, but also fish, shellfish and zooplankton.
Environmentalists say the blasts can reach 250 decibels and travel hundreds of miles underwater. By comparison, a jet engine taking off produces 140 decibels.
During a July 18 session of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Graves said the streamlining of environmental regulations will help Louisiana get its coastal restoration projects off the ground and no longer be tied up in regulatory red tape.
The blasts can cause hearing loss in marine mammals, disturb essential behaviors such as feeding and breeding over vast distances, mask communications among whales and dolphins, and reduce catch rates of commercial fish, the Center for Biological Diversity says.
But oil industry groups note the sound pressure is lower under water, the blasts are short and intermittent, and noise levels are about the same as other natural and man-made sounds, including wind and wave action, rain, lightning strikes and shipping.
The bill has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans. It is also being supported by Louisiana Congressmen Mike Johnson, Clay Higgins and Ralph Lee Abraham.
-- Staff Writer Dan Boudreaux can be reached at 857-2204 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@dan_boudreaux.