Choosing Big Oil over whales: Obama opens East Coast for offshore exploration

A first-in-decades decision poses a major threat to marine life

Topics: President Obama, Offshore drilling, Whales, dolphins, marine conservation, Oil Drilling, , ,

Choosing Big Oil over whales: Obama opens East Coast for offshore explorationNorth Atlantic Right Whale (Credit: Stephen Meese/Shutterstock)

Federal waters off the East Coast are officially open for oil exploration, the Obama administration announced Friday, meaning energy companies can begin surveying the Eastern Seaboard, from the coast of Delaware down to Florida, in preparation for potential drilling.

The most immediate concerns, to environmentalists, are the air guns and sonic sensors used to find the oil, which can harm endangered whales and other marine life, like fish and sea turtles. In its environmental impact study conducted ahead of the approval, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimated that more than 138,000 sea creatures could potentially be harmed by the activity, including nine north Atlantic right whales. Only 500 of the whales remain worldwide.

“No one has been allowed to test anything like this on right whales,” Scott Kraus, a right whale expert at the John H. Prescott Marine Laboratory in Boston, told the Associated Press. By approving the use of sonic canons, he said, the administration “has authorized a giant experiment on right whales that this country would never allow researchers to do.”

And where there’s oil exploration, there usually ends up being oil drilling, to which coastal states, concerned about fisheries, tourism and the potential for spills, are largely opposed. Michael Jasny, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Marine Mammal Protection Project, told Fuel Fix that seismic exploration is “a gateway drug to offshore drilling.” Fuel Fix has more on how the fossil fuel industry is exerting its influence:

You Might Also Like

Friday’s move also helps pave the way for possible drilling off the East Coast in the 2020s, by giving the industry a new chance to prove the oil and gas potential of the area right as the Obama administration is assembling a five-year plan for selling offshore energy leases beginning in late 2017.

Nine companies have told the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management they want to do the work, which would represent the first geophysical data collection along the East Coast in more than three decades.

Environmentalists accused the Obama administration of caving to the oil industry by formalizing an approach that would impose modest limitations on the seismic research instead of mandating more rigorous safeguards or barring the activity altogether.

“For more than 30 years, the Atlantic coast has been off-limits to offshore drilling,” said Oceana campaign director Claire Douglass. “Today, our government appears to be folding to the pressure of Big Oil and its big money.”

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Jodi Hilton

    Nepal earthquake animal rescue

    Slide 1

    KATHMANDU, NEPAL-- May 1, 2015--Team from Humane Society International doing assessments and rescue work in the Lalipur District outside Kathmandu where many houses collapsed and animals died during last week's earthquake.

    Jodi Hilton

    Nepal earthquake animal rescue

    Slide 2

    KATHMANDU, NEPAL-- May 1, 2015--Team from Humane Society International doing assessments and rescue work in the Lalipur District outside Kathmandu where many houses collapsed and animals died during last week's earthquake.

    Humane Society International

    Nepal earthquake animal rescue

    Slide 3

    Humane Society International’s Animal Rescue Team deployed to Kathmandu, Nepal on 30th April 2015 to offer emergency animal welfare aid following a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

    Jodi Hilton

    Nepal earthquake animal rescue

    Slide 4

    KATHMANDU, NEPAL-- May 1, 2015--Team from Humane Society International doing assessments and rescue work in the Lalipur District outside Kathmandu where many houses collapsed and animals died during last week's earthquake.

    Jodi Hilton

    Nepal earthquake animal rescue

    Slide 5

    KATHMANDU, NEPAL-- May 1, 2015--Crew from HSI doing assessments and rescue work in the Lalipur District where many houses collapsed and animals died during last week's earthquake.

    Society for Animal Welfare and Management and Animal Welfare Network Nepal

    Nepal earthquake animal rescue

    Slide 6

    Calf rescue in Thali, a village outside Kathmandu, Nepal following the earthquake. Photo taken 29 April 2015.

    Jodi Hilton

    Nepal earthquake animal rescue

    Slide 7

    Crew from HSI doing assessments and rescue work in the Lalipur District where many houses collapsed and animals died during last week's earthquake.

    Jodi Hilton

    Nepal earthquake animal rescue

    Slide 8

    KATHMANDU, NEPAL-- May 1, 2015--Crew from HSI doing assessments and rescue work in the Lalipur District where many houses collapsed and animals died during last week's earthquake.

    Jodi Hilton

    Nepal earthquake animal rescue

    Slide 9

    Rahul Sehgal, Asia director of the Humane Society International holds an orphaned baby goat in Kalitaar, an agricultural village outside Kathmandu that was severely damaged by the Nepal earthquake. Large scale damage and deaths of livestock across the country means recovery will be difficult for people who were already living below the poverty line.

    Jodi Hilton

    Nepal earthquake animal rescue

    Slide 10

    KATHMANDU, NEPAL-- May 1, 2015--Team from Humane Society International doing assessments and rescue work in the Lalipur District outside Kathmandu where many houses collapsed and animals died during last week's earthquake.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...