Gulf Marine Animals Burdened By Noise

Noisy gas and oil drilling surveys upset fragile marine ecosystems

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All of you have had that errant neighbor who decides to throw a party at 2 a.m., and the next day you are groggy and temperamental—not your best self.

Now imagine having to contend with that loud noise 24 hours a day—as marine animals in the Gulf of Mexico must because of oil and gas drilling surveys.

Earthjustice joined a lawsuit against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (formerly the Minerals Management Service) to challenge its approval of these surveys.

Seismic surveys are used to help locate regions for oil and gas development and to generate very high sound levels in the ocean. This sound can travel literally thousands of miles underwater. For marine mammals and fish—whales and dolphins specifically—that depend on their sense of sound for most life functions, this noise is detrimental to their development and well-being.

Coupled with the fact that numerous scientific studies find excessive noise in the ocean is a growing problem for marine ecosystems, the federal agency failed to conduct an environmental analysis into these activities. That lapse violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

To break this down, there are as many as five regional seismic surveys conducted at any one time and more than 30 surveys conducted annually in the Gulf of Mexico. The surveys cover large areas and often go on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And it’s not just an issue here.

A few days ago, a Canadian judge blocked several seismic surveys that were to take place in the environmentally sensitive waters of Lancaster Sound in the Arctic. The injunction was sought by several Inuit communities finding the surveys a danger to beluga whales and narwhals (narwhals are medium-sized toothed whales that live year-round in the Arctic.)

Over in Australia, this issue is making headlines, too. Residents of a town in southwest Queensland are physically blocking a major gas company from coming into their neighborhood and conducting seismic testing in the Surat Basin. Residents are concerned about threats to their environment as a result of these surveys. Sadly there are plenty of stories about governments allowing these seismic surveys to continue, regardless of the environmental consequences.

Earthjustice attorney Steve Roady had this to say about our challenge:

 The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is only the latest in a number of environmental assaults on these animals and we’re hoping to ensure that the government adequately analyzes the impacts of further exploration and development.

Raviya was a press secretary at Earthjustice in the Washington, D.C. office from 2008 to 2014, working on issues including federal rulemakings, energy efficiency laws and coal ash pollution.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.