I’ve just filed our comments on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s 2017-2022 Five Year Outer Continental Shelf energy leasing plan. While wind and tidal energy would need leases as well, this plan is singularly focused on oil and gas development.
This is the first time in 30 years that the Mid and South Atlantic has been included in offshore fossil fuel plans because a moratorium was put in place on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts after the Santa Barbara oil spill let the world know what could happen should operators lose control of an offshore rig.
Much has changed since then. The well in Santa Barbara was in 200 feet of water and extended only 3500 below the ocean floor. By comparison the Macondo blowout was in 5100 feet of water, and the borehole was over 13,000 feet below that. The technologies have advanced to the point where drilling in these depths is possible, but as we found out, so are oil spills.
Most of the public concern for the proposal does in fact orbit around the possibility of another catastrophic oil spill – disrupting what is currently a robust coastal economy based on commercial and recreational fisheries and seashore tourism in what are some of the more beautiful coastlines and picturesque seaside towns in the US. But what has not yet come up on the public sonar is the acoustic disruption of the marine soundscape from offshore oil and gas production. This will completely transform the natural soundscape of the sea that much of the offshore marine life currently depends on for survival.
Aside from the worries about how seismic surveys will impact marine life, noise has only played a minor role in the public’s widespread objection to the plan. And while we are concerned about the impacts of seismic surveys, I am even more concerned about the transformation of the soundscape that will occur after the first airguns hit the water.
Much of the technology that makes deepwater drilling possible hinges on creating pre-refineries on the sea floor. These include seafloor separators, reinjection pumps, multi-phase pumps and other equipment all operating under extreme pressures and often very high (and noisy) differential pressures.
Additionally these deepwater operations are typically performed from dynamically stabilized drill ships and “semi-submersible” platforms that are always churning away. Multi-nodal communications networks and acoustical navigation beacons continuously chirping and chattering will directly overlap tooth whales bio-sonar frequency band. So what is currently an urban-marine soundscape with the sounds of shipping, boats, fish-finders, and sonars will become an industrial soundscape: The sea floor as “factory floor.”
We’ve created a more detailed list of our concerns, and hope that our comments will be taken in and acted upon.