BOEM’s eggs are hatching chickens

Back in August of 2014 the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) attempted to mitigate public outrage for a hastily made decision on opening up the US Atlantic continental shelf to seismic surveys by publishing an unsubstantiated puff piece on “The Science Behind the Decision.”

Aside from the general errors and physical inaccuracies in the piece, what stood out – and what continues to dog BOEM’s “Chief Environmental Officer” William Yancy Brown is his comment that “there has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from air guns used in geological and geophysical seismic activities adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities.”

The “slight-of-hand” in his comment is the phrase “…adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities.” It is somewhat akin to saying that there is no scientific evidence of flying bowling balls being a threat to aquariums. There has been no systematic study of the impacts of flying bowling balls on aquariums; there has also been no systematic studies of population-scale impacts of airgun surveys on marine mammals.

Unfortunately this is essentially lying by omission – or in this case lying by obfuscation. The quote has been used extensively by the fossil fuel industry for their purposes, and for which Mr. Brown continues to take heat from the conservation community. In response to the continued heat BOEM has come out with another soft-shoe routine explaining what they mean (or where they have been sowing confusion) without extracting the “marine mammal populations or coastal communities” condition of their comments.

Area of the Atlantic ocean where seismic surveys are planned.

Area of the Atlantic ocean where seismic surveys are planned.

There are plenty of scientific papers substantiating seismic survey impacts on individual animals, and groups of animals. These data have just not been correlated to population-scale impacts. But if BOEM had any real questions about impacts, a recent letter from 75 marine scientists and bioacousticians to President Obama should clarify the issue. The letter mentions impacts to marine mammals, fish, and invertebrates – from migratory and feeding disruptions to increased larval mortality, developmental compromise, hearing loss, and depleted fisheries catch rates.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of impacts BOEM still seems resolved to serve as handmaiden to the Oilmen. If you would like to chime in about this issue you can direct comments to BOEM Office of Public Affairs:

Office of Public Affairs
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20240
Phone: (202) 208-6474
Contact: BOEMPublic Affairs

The new director of BOEM is Abigale Ross Hopper. We understand that she is reachable, and would be well served by hearing from you, her employer.