Survey Says...Offshore Seismic is Safe
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Late last month, Delaware Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons released a joint statement opposing seismic surveying in the Atlantic Ocean. Their worry is that such preparatory drilling work for oil and natural gas below the ocean floor would negatively impact marine life along the Atlantic coast.
Their fears are unfounded. Atlantic drilling would create economic benefits at virtually no environmental cost. As environmental economists understand, wealth is health; that is, economic prosperity redounds to individuals and families in ways that result in longer and better living.
Higher-income individuals eat more fresh foods than lower-income persons, for example. They drive safer cars. More wealth affords more education -- and a better environment too.
What is Seismic Surveying?
Here's how seismic surveying works. A boat tugs along an air gun that fires sound waves towards the ocean floor. When the waves bounce back, seismic detectors aboard the boat measure the waves, giving surveyors the data they need to detect oil and natural gas deposits.
In January, Obama denied permits to six energy companies who had petitioned the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Management to use seismic surveying along the Atlantic coast, from Delaware to Florida. The outgoing administration cited concerns about the safety of marine animals.
The Trump administration's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is now poised to grant five of these permits, subject to public comment. If approved, the permits would allow surveys in areas that haven't been explored for more than three decades.
Environmental activists, predictably, have greeted this reversal with alarm. Organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council warn that seismic surveys would inflict long-lasting and irreversible damage on aquatic life. They also claim it could represent the "tipping point" for the survival of an endangered whale species.
(By the way, are the same environmental organizations as concerned about how offshore wind turbines affect whales? It is an issue.)
This Al Gore–style alarmism is misplaced.
Seismic surveys are environmentally safe. In 2014, spurred by a 2010 Congressional request to review seismic surveys, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) published their final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the issue from an impartial, unbiased standpoint.
Charged with protecting marine species and ecosystems "from harm by energy exploration and development," the BOEM is well equipped to assess the facts without catering to corporate interests.
As their findings made clear, after three decades of use, there "is no documented scientific evidence" that air guns pose any harm to marine animals. In addition, they couldn't find a single "documented case of a marine mammal or sea turtle being killed by the sound from an air gun." The BOEM stressed that air guns are powerful tools, but that when used appropriately with proper risk "mitigation measures" they are safe.
Reactionary environmentalists like to misrepresent the "minor to negligible impact" that seismic surveys have on most wildlife. They blatantly ignore the protocol that makes the process safe.
Seismic surveyors take numerous precautions to avoid disturbing wildlife. Surveyors must obtain government licenses and comply with extensive regulations. They use acoustic monitoring equipment to locate animals beneath the sea's surface and halt testing when animals are nearby. When surveys are approved, visual observers will board boats to help alert operators to protected species that are close by.
Seismic surveys aren't some new-fangled technology. Energy companies have used seismic surveying in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere for decades. And throughout all these years of testing, there is no documented evidence of harm or injury to marine animals or the environment.
The Obama administration argued, and environmental groups still argue, that seismic blasts disorient fish and whales and prevent them from communicating. But for any damage to occur, marine life would have to be within a few meters of the air gun. As a precaution, surveyors slowly ramp up the air guns, giving fish and whales plenty of time to temporarily swim elsewhere.
In truth, environmentalists oppose these surveys not out of concern for animals, but out of a deep-seated desire to keep all fossil fuels "in the ground." With this end, the means can become quite speculative, a perversion of the precautionary principle under which innovation and progress are sacrificed.
Economic Gain for No Pain
Knee-jerk opposition to offshore energy development is a stale, politically-out-of-date energy policy. A truce has been called in the war against fossil fuels by the federal government, reversing the historic excesses of the Obama regime. Trump’s America First energy policy will allow American supply to replace what Americans are consuming every second of every day, thereby ensuring affordability and dependability.
And don’t forget the size of the prize. Atlantic offshore development could add $23.5 billion per year to the nation's economy by 2035, and boost federal tax revenue by $51 billion.
Atlantic offshore energy extraction could create nearly 280,000 consumer-driven jobs by 2035. The vast majority of these, nearly 215,000, would be along the coast. But the jobs won't just be limited to one trade. The mining, manufacturing, engineering, and construction industries would all benefit to the tune of a combined 125,000 new jobs.
None of these benefits will come to fruition without seismic surveying. President Trump deserves applause for pushing to authorize these surveys in the Atlantic. They're environmentally safe and don't pose the threat to aquatic life that environmentalists claim.
Environmental groups who oppose seismic surveying are really fighting against good paying jobs -- gainful employment that does not depend on government but free consumer choice.
Robert L. Bradley Jr. is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research.
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