Offshore Drilling

Trump moves forward with seismic testing for offshore oil exploration

Because apparently "harassing" endangered whales is no big deal:

The Trump administration on Friday authorized use of seismic air guns to find oil and gas formations deep underneath the Atlantic Ocean floor, reversing Obama administration policies and drawing outrage from critics who say the practice can disturb or injure whales, sea turtles and other marine life. The surveys are part of President Donald Trump's bid to expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic.

Administration officials said that under terms of the law that protects marine life, the permits would allow "harassment" of whales and sea turtles but would not allow companies to kill them.

As horrific as that sounds, it's actually an understatement. The ruling actually allows for "incidental" injury to sea life, as long as it's not "intentional." Think about that. By injecting "intent" into the formula, they could kill as many whales, dolphins, and turtles as it is necessary to get the readings they need, as long as they say, "Oops!" when they do it. And this "protection" is laughable:

Offshore drilling update: Approval for seismic testing may come soon

Whether NC's coastal residents want it or not:

The steps to seismic testing in the South Atlantic include approval of the incidental harassment authorizations by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which could then be followed by approval of the permits from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). According to NOAA’s website, the public comment period for proposed seismic permits in the Atlantic closed last July. The comment review and final determination process typically takes, according to the site, one to three months.

“We are working through about 17,000 public comments as expeditiously as possible, but will take the time necessary to ensure that they are all appropriately addressed and that our final decision is based on the best available science,” Kate Brogan, a National Marine Fisheries Service spokeswoman, wrote in an email.

I can't help but stir my tea leaves when a government official says, "best available science." Because they are the ones who decide what's best, what's available, and (of course) what is "science" as opposed to opinion. All that said, both the NOAA and the Marine Fisheries branch are part of a dwindling group of Federal regulatory entities that are still at least trying to do their jobs properly. But that may be about to change:

Trump gives thumbs-up to massive offshore drilling plan

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Will this battle never come to an end?

The Trump administration on Thursday moved to vastly expand offshore drilling from the Atlantic to the Arctic oceans with a plan that would open up federal waters off California for the first time in more than three decades. The new five-year drilling plan also could open new areas of oil and gas exploration in areas off the East Coast from Georgia to Maine, where drilling has been blocked for decades. Many lawmakers in those states support offshore drilling, though the Democratic governors of North Carolina and Virginia oppose drilling off their coasts.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, also opposes offshore drilling near his state, as do the three Democratic governors on the West Coast. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the plan Thursday, saying that responsible development of offshore energy resources would boost jobs and economic security while providing billions of dollars to fund conservation along U.S. coastlines.

Bolding mine, because that's some serious BS. The Gulf of Mexico has been literally peppered with offshore rigs for decades, but when the Deepwater Horizon disaster happened, there wasn't enough money available to buy a pack of Nabs for those affected, much less "conserve" the oil-drenched coastline and fishing areas. The only bright spot in this oily mess is the fact we have a new Governor. Pat McCrory was nothing more than an industry shill, actually allowing them to operate out of his office under the guise of the Outer Continental Shelf Governor's Coalition. But our new Governor Roy Cooper is a totally different animal:

"Not off our coast." Governor Cooper comes out swinging against offshore drilling

No ambiguity at all in this statement:

“It’s clear that opening North Carolina’s coast to oil and gas exploration and drilling would bring unacceptable risks to our economy, our environment, and our coastal communities—and for little potential gain,” said Gov. Cooper. “As Governor, I’m here to speak out and take action against it. I can sum it up in four words: not off our coast.”

A potential oil spill could decimate North Carolina’s coastal tourism and commercial fishing industries, both major economic drivers for the region. Coastal tourism in North Carolina generates more than $3 billion annually, supporting more than 30,000 jobs.

Boom. What a difference between this man and McCrory, who actually invited Big Oil to set up shop in his own office. Which became the headquarters for the Outer Continental Shelf Governor's Association, who were hell-bent on scattering offshore oil rigs all over the Southeastern seaboard, and allowed industry reps to dominate what were supposed to be public hearings in coastal communities. Just one more reason the voters kicked McCrory to the curb.

NC's coast once again imperiled by offshore drilling

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These battles for the environment never seem to end:

President Donald Trump’s move last week to expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans rekindles the debate over the viability of oil and gas drilling and seismic testing off the coast of North Carolina.

Trump’s executive order calls for the Department of Interior to return hundreds of miles of federal waters back to eligibility for offshore drilling, areas that were marked off-limits by the Obama administration just last year.

You know, I keep hearing people talking about how Trump's problems with Congress will keep them from doing too much harm, but it's not just Congressional Legislation we need to worry about. In fact, from the fossil fuel industry's point of view, controlling the Executive Branch is probably a hell of a lot cheaper and more effective in getting what they want than courting Senators and Representatives. Hijacking the EPA alone is worth billions to them, and that's not even counting BOEM, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, the FDA, USDA, etc. They can pretty much write their own ticket. And on the offshore drilling front, making a bunch of noise to disorient whales and dolphins and other critters is step #1:

Refuting industry propaganda on seismic testing for oil & gas

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Who needs science when you can bluff your way to profits:

There has been no observation of direct physical injury or death to free-ranging fish caused by seismic survey activity, and there is no conclusive evidence showing long-term or permanent displacement of fish.

Seismic and other geophysical surveys are the first critical step to better understanding the nation’s resource potential and there is not one single verifiable instance of sound from these surveys harming marine life populations. We cannot afford to put the nation’s energy security and independence at risk by limiting access to safe affordable domestic energy because of the baseless accusations of environmental activists. The economic and energy future of the United States is far too important to cater to the short-sighted agenda of a few.

Bolding mine. Of course the drilling part comes after the seismic surveys, I just couldn't let that "safe affordable domestic energy" BS leak into the discussion without pointing out the fallacy. The Deepwater Horizon spill alone cost billions in cleanup and lost revenues, not to mention actual lives. Combine that with the countless other spills and leaks, and the words "safe" and "affordable" should be excluded from any reference to offshore drilling. Back to the seismic testing and sea life issues:

Advocacy matters: Offshore drilling in Atlantic OCS off the table

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The people have spoken, and the President has heard:

The Obama administration is expected to withdraw its plan to permit oil and gas drilling off the southeast Atlantic coast, yielding to an outpouring of opposition from coastal communities from Virginia to Georgia but dashing the hopes and expectations of many of those states’ top leaders.

I have no doubt that if it hadn't been for the tireless work of many unpaid volunteers working with NC's environmental organizations, this victory (when it's formally announced) would not have happened. These folks made countless trips from the Triangle, the Triad, and even the mountain areas, to various coastal communities to lend their support and organizing skills, the entire time faced with the knowledge they were fighting a billion-dollar industry. And the sheer number of brave municipal governments all along the coast who took a stand against offshore drilling is amazing. Movements like this are rare, and the thousands of hours devoted to making them happen deserves recognition. We should also never forget what's at stake:

Op-ed on offshore drilling by Duke University professor

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The dangers far outweigh the benefits:

The existence or importance of climate change is questioned by many, especially those who like to drive big SUVs to the beach on weekends. About the only argument I can see holding any water will come from those well-heeled individuals who own coastal real estate or who wish to develop coastal areas for others to enjoy.

Lessons from the Deep-Water Horizon or Macondo oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are instructive. Phytoplankton biomass in Gulf waters was 85 percent lower after the oil spill. Some of the reduction might have been caused by the massive use of oil dispersants on the 5 million barrels of oil that flowed from the seabed. Lower phytoplankton biomass translates directly into lower fish and shellfish populations, which feed on phytoplankton.

Just want to add something often overlooked: Most people work from the assumption that land-based flora (trees, plants, etc.) provide most of our planet's new oxygen creation and carbon uptake. But in reality, about 60% of that function is performed by ocean microorganisms, plankton (both types) in particular. We screw them up, and there's no coming back. Here's something else the esteemed author left out of the conversation:

Propaganda over science: Van der Vaart a reliable industry puppet

Seismic testing for offshore drilling is far from harmless:

The National Science Foundation safely conducted a 2D seismic survey off the coast of North Carolina last fall. Interestingly, this study did not receive the attention that the proposed studies have generated, despite the fact that they used the same technology that is proposed for oil and gas seismic data collection. The N.C. Divisions of Coastal Management and Marine Fisheries did not receive any reports of disturbances or injury to marine wildlife and are unaware of any adverse impacts resulting from those surveying activities.

That is consistent with observations made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in May 2015, which found no evidence that serious injury, death or stranding by marine mammals can occur from exposure to air gun pulses, even in the case of large air gun arrays. Sadly, some political groups masquerading as environmental organizations have chosen to ignore these realities.

Bolding mine. Not only is that an asinine statement, it's ironic as hell coming from a political appointee who has attacked Roy Cooper for not opposing the EPA's Clean Power Plan. Van der Vaart is proving to be even more of a demagogue than his predecessor, and that's saying a helluva lot. I don't need to tell you that, but I do need to throw some actual science into the discussion. Due to their environment, ocean fauna rely on sound more than any other sense to survive and procreate:

Growing list of coastal municipalities oppose offshore drilling

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Swansboro joins in the dissenting opinion:

Commissioners voted 3-1 at the board’s Tuesday night meeting to adopt a resolution opposing offshore oil and gas development and drilling and related seismic blasting activities off the North Carolina coast.

Commissioner Jim Allen said he wasn’t comfortable taking a stand against an issue that state leaders are working on with the federal government. Gov. Pat McCrory serves as chairman of the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition. “I don’t think we need to be putting up roadblocks in their way,” Allen said.

If that pro-drilling group were composed entirely of government officials, there *might* be a sliver of credibility in Jim Allen's concern. But those Governors have allowed themselves to become nothing more than oil & gas industry mouthpieces:

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