Close to two years ago we reviewed and submitted comments to a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) five-year survey plan for the offshore uses of the Atlantic Seaboard issued by the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM). At the time we characterized (accurately, as it turns out) two of the proposed alternatives as a gateway to offshore oil and gas production. The third alternative was configured to explore offshore wind energy sites – leaving fossil fuel exploration out of the plan.
BOEM took in all of the public comments and spent 18 months responding – either by explaining their logic or revising the draft to reflect the public concerns. In our case they responded to most of our concerns, and for the most part did so in an informed and sincere manner. With some exceptions for faulty modeling assumptions it appeared as if BOEM was doing their job.
I’ve spent the last two weeks reviewing and commenting on BOEM’s responses, still finding many shortcomings that should preclude the fossil fuel-weighted options. But it seems that despite our reservations – and the reservations of all of our conservation colleagues, that BOEM is treating Atlantic offshore oil and gas exploration as a foregone conclusion.
This point was graphically highlighted by their response to our concern that it would be very difficult for ship-board Marine Mammal Observers (the guardians of dynamic marine mammal protection zones) to monitor the survey operations perimeter for whales and dolphins during the day, and impossible to monitor the perimeter at night.
To this comment they responded “Prohibiting all survey operations at night is not feasible based on the operational requirements for broad scale surveys that may require months of 24 hour days to complete.”
I find their response the pinnacle of hubris: If it is not “feasible” to halt operations at night when they have no idea if vulnerable animals are in the area, then they should not run them at all. Seismic surveys are costly – often up to $250 thousand per day. Halting them every day at nightfall could easily increase the survey costs by 50%. But this is the true cost of doing business. Foisting these and other operational costs onto the environment is why the fossil fuel industry remains so profitable.
The comment also implicates BOEM in favoring expediency for the Oilmen over both sustainable offshore energy and the health of marine habitat.
But something good could come of this: It is clear (after 30 years of trying) that we do not have the political will to unhook from fossil fuel. One reason for the inertia is that all of the favors bestowed on the industry make fossil fuel energy over-competitive with offshore wind, tidal, and wave energy.
We don’t have the political will, but we do have the regulatory framework in place to make the industry account for their costs. We are asking BOEM to weigh in not just on our comments about specific issues, but to also look at the larger picture of continuing to give fossil fuel a “free pass” over renewable energy when the health of the ocean – and the health of the planet are also in the balance.