The Big Wheels of the Oil Industry

Pipe-lay Vessel

Under the rubric “If it ain’t broke, smash it!” of the current Administration, we’ve been busy the last two weeks reviewing and filing public comments on some items that fell out of Executive Order 13975 (EO) which seeks to clear away any obstacles (read “safeguards”) that interfere with the fossil fuel industry’s full exploitation of offshore hydrocarbons. While there are a lot of big gifts to the oilmen in this EO, our remit focused on two items: The re-re-review of the recently adopted Acoustical Guidelines for Marine Mammal noise exposures, and the release for review of five “Incidental Harassment Authorizations”(IHAs), permitting “takes” of marine mammals coincident to seismic surveys on the Mid and South Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

I was a bit perplexed by the EO instruction to “revise or rescind” the acoustical guidelines because they are not regulations; they are “guidelines.” That these guidelines have been in development since 2007, have been peer-reviewed three times, and submitted for public comment three times doesn’t seem to figure into the Administration’s calculus.

If these guidelines were to be revised, they would be revised (per the provisions in the document) to reflect the best available science by scientists conversant in marine mammal hearing, not by oil-soaked bureaucrats. If, on the other hand, the Guidelines were rescinded, the guidance would revert to the earlier guidelines – which were very rudimentary (thus the new guidelines).

The five Incidental Harassment Authorizations had been stalled since 2015 when it was clear that the only sector that wanted lease sales in the Atlantic were the folks in the oil industry: In the 720 page public comments document about opening up the Atlantic to seismic surveys, only one letter – a 100-page screed jointly authored by three industry trade organizations, was in support of the surveys. All other public and scientific comments opposed the proposal. And as of June 2017 Atlantic Seaboard opposition to seismic surveys include 125 municipalities, 1200 elected officials, 41,000 business, and 500,200 fishing families. What is it about representative democracy do these guys not get?

Hopefully our comments to the Acoustical Guidelines proposal and our review of the Incidental Harassment Authorizations will throw some sticks into the spokes of the Administration’s big wheels.

Should you want to lodge a comment on the IHAs, the comment portal is open until July 6, 2017. The comments portal for the Acoustic Guidelines is open until July 17, 2017.