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Legislators oppose seismic testing in Atlantic Ocean

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Reps. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., and James Clyburn, D-S.C.,  along with more than 50 other members of the House of Representatives, sent a letter (.pdf) to President Barack Obama on Wednesday asking him not to allow seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean.

In March, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that leases for oil and natural gas drilling off the mid- and south Atlantic coast were removed from a five-year offshore energy plan, in part because of strong, local opposition.

At the time, Sanford called the decision a “big win for the coast and the principle of local advocacy.”

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is now, though, in the process of providing permits for seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic, according to the letter.

The letter to Obama, citing “a significant body of peer-reviewed science,” said that seismic testing is harmful to ocean wildlife. The predrilling test method uses sound waves directed at the ocean floor to create images of the subsurface that oil and gas companies use to determine the best places to drill.

“Although a wide range of marine species will be negatively impacted by seismic airgun blasting, such as commercial fish species, the North Atlantic right whale, one of the most endangered whales on the planet, is particularly vulnerable,” the letter said. “With approximately 500 individuals remaining, seismic airgun blasting could accelerate the species’ further decline.”

The representatives who signed the letter also noted that new technology that would substitute the explosive blasts from seismic airguns with a lower-intensity “hum” is in development and expected to be available commercially before 2020.

“With no Atlantic lease sales included in the upcoming five-year plan, it would be worthwhile to wait for the availability of new technology, and then re-evaluate the cost-benefit analysis of energy resource exploration in the Atlantic Ocean,” the letter said.

Sanford, in a news release announcing the letter, said it’s not reasonable to do seismic testing in a place that is not going to be leased for oil and natural gas drilling.

“It makes little sense to conduct seismic testing off the Atlantic coast, when the Atlantic Ocean has been excluded as a possible site for offshore drilling by the Department of Interior,” Sanford said in the release. “It should not move forward, if nothing else, because allowing seismic testing to proceed goes counter to the coastal communities I represent. They have spoken clearly that they do not want this blasting.”

Reach Ashley Heffernan at 843-849-3144.

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