For the first time in 30 years the Obama administration plans to open up the Atlantic Ocean from Florida to New Jersey to high-intensity seismic airgun exploration for offshore oil and gas. Not only is this activity the gateway to drilling off our coasts, it represents in itself a major assault on our oceans, with widespread harm to endangered whales, ocean fisheries and coastal economies. Offshore oil and gas exploration involves the towing of arrays of high-volume airguns behind ships. These airguns fire intense impulses of compressed air -- almost as loud as explosives -- every 10-12 seconds, 24 hours per day, for weeks and months on end. Because of the enormous distance sound can travel in the ocean, the dangerous noise from this activity can stretch many hundreds of miles and drive whales to abandon their habitats, go silent, and cease foraging over vast areas of ocean. At shorter distances, it can cause permanent hearing loss, injury, and death. According to the Interior Department's own draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, the proposal to open up a huge area of the Atlantic ocean to the industry's blasting would injure up to 138,500 marine mammals and disrupt marine mammal feeding, calving, breeding, and other vital activities more than 13.5 million times. Critically endangered species would suffer, including the North Atlantic right whale, a vulnerable population of fewer than 400 individuals. The proposed action threatens not only whales, but ocean fish populations and coastal economies. Airgun noise has been shown to displace valuable species of fish across vast areas and depress catch rates. You have the power to protect whales and dolphins from the relentless acoustical assault of seismic exploration. You have the power to preserve multi-billion dollar fishing, tourism, and recreational industries that support hundreds of thousands of American jobs. With airgun exploration comes pressure for oil and gas drilling. If we have learned anything from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, it is that the impacts of an oil spill are devastating and long term -- for the environment, for wildlife, for communities, and for economies. We must not open the east coast of America to oil and gas exploration and drilling, risking our treasured coastline and wildlife, as well as multi-billion dollar fishing, tourism, and recreational industries that support hundreds of thousands of American jobs.
Secretary Ken Salazar, Department of the Interior Obama Administration