Progress Florida is one of the organizations and leaders opposing a plan to use seismic airgun testing for oil and gas exploration off the state’s Atlantic coast.
The progressive nonprofit organization says the procedure threatens marine wildlife and coastal economies as well as Florida’s tourism and fishing industries.
“The noise from seismic airgun blasts is so loud that it can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source, devastating marine life, harming fisheries and coastal economies,” said Progress Florida Executive Director Mark Ferrulo.
On Thursday, Progress Florida joined the Boston-based Environmental Action to deliver more than 7,000 citizen petitions to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration urging the agency to deny permits for seismic airgun surveys in protected areas of the Atlantic Ocean, including along the Florida coastline.
The Donald Trump administration is fast-tracking the approval process for airgun blasting to map the ocean floor — a region stretching from Florida to Delaware — to find new oil and gas reserves. Giant air horns blast up to 250 decibels — enough to shatter human ears — for miles throughout the sea floor.
The petitions to the NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service came ahead of a public comment period for the proposal, originally set to close July 6, but extended to July 21.
Progress Florida has added its voice to a growing number of environmental activists concerned the surveys will open the door to offshore drilling. Currently, there are five open applications for Atlantic seismic airgun surveys, after Trump reversed an Obama-era rejection of seismic air gun surveying off the Atlantic coast. They are calling for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to oppose Trump’s push to reverse Obama’s orders, opening the South Atlantic Planning Area — much of which located off Florida’s coast — to seismic testing and potential oil and gas drilling.
According to The Associated Press, “no surveys have been conducted in the mid- and south-Atlantic regions for at least 30 years.”
Experts believe these renewed blasts would affect the region’s fragile ecosystem, mostly by impairing the audible range in marine mammals, which use hearing for navigation, communication, eating and mating. According to the Sierra Club, blasts could injure or kill as many as 138,000 dolphins and whales, as well as put nesting female and young sea turtles at risk with low-frequency seismic sound.
Others say harm to wildlife would have an extensive economic impact on fisheries along the Florida coast, by killing off zooplankton, an essential marine food source, in an area of 135,000 square miles.
Last year, Obama listed most of the U.S.-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and parts of the Atlantic as indefinitely off-limits to oil and gas leasing. The designation, enacted December 2017, banned seismic testing in 31 ocean canyons from New England to Virginia, and was on top of a five-year drilling plan that also blocked Atlantic drilling.
“Oil drilling poses a tremendous risk to Florida’s fragile coastal environment and our tourism-based economy,” Ferrulo added. “Floridians are unified against dirty, dangerous oil drilling and in favor of clean, renewable energy like solar power which will save consumers and businesses money today and protect our coastal waters, beaches and economies for tomorrow.”
Among the opponents of blasting are more than 120 East Coast municipalities, as well as Northeast Florida Congressman John Rutherford, the Jacksonville Republican who has been vocal in challenging the value of seismic air gun blasting and future offshore oil production.
“While future offshore drilling activities in the Atlantic would put our communities at risk down the road, seismic testing threatens our fragile coastal economies today,” Rutherford told WJCT in June. “Our coastal economy should not be put at undue risk at a time when our booming oil and gas production is more than enough to meet our current energy needs.”
Rutherford was one of over 100 Congress members, many from Florida, who signed a letter to the Department of the Interior last month to oppose Atlantic Ocean seismic testing.
Ferrulo continued: “Opening our coasts to destructive drilling would do little to make us energy independent, but it would threaten our beaches with pollution and oil spills and could destroy our multibillion-dollar tourism and fishing industries.”