Today the Obama Administration, through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), released the 2017-2022 five year offshore leasing plan. Although some areas in the Chukchi Sea were recently put “off limits” due to their importance for subsistence use by Alaskan Natives as well as for their “unique and sensitive environmental resources,” the leases represent an unprecedented advance of industry into areas that have been protected for 30 years (in the Atlantic) or just technologically unavailable (in the Arctic).
By opening up oil and gas leases in the Atlantic and Arctic ocean the oil companies and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management are gambling on the probability of a catastrophic oil spill. But whether a spill eventually happens or not, these areas will be irretrievably transformed by industrial noise pollution – from seismic exploration, to platform construction, to high-pressure seafloor oil and gas processing, and all of the tenders and tankers that will serve these offshore operations. Huge areas of the ocean which now enjoy relatively low levels of human-generated noise will be soon become continuously saturated with the roar of industry.
This of course does not bode well for the fish, invertebrates, and marine mammals that depend on an evolved and balanced soundscape to survive.