Offshore drilling in the Atlantic and the related seismic airgun blasting used to identify oil and gas deposits pose unacceptable risks to East Coast economies, marine life and our environment.
But the Trump administration, with a “drill baby, drill” mind-set, has awarded permits allowing five companies to “incidentally” harass whales, dolphins and other marine life by performing deafening seismic blasting — the precursor to oil and gas drilling — from Cape May, N.J., to Cape Canaveral, Fla.
While federal lawsuits aim to stop the rush to blast and drill, the Trump administration should abandon this precipitous course. Every state governor up and down the coast from both sides of the aisle is opposed to this terrible move, and coastal communities are united against it. President Trump has the opportunity to do the right, bipartisan thing by stopping these permits from moving forward — or the courts may decide for him.
The Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina coasts, which boast some of the best beaches, magnificent natural habitats and robust coastal economies on the Eastern Seaboard, are firmly in the oil industry’s crosshairs.
For Virginia, offshore drilling would put 86,000 jobs and $4.8 billion in GDP from coastal tourism and fishing at risk, according to the environmental and conservation group Oceana. For Maryland, 96,000 jobs and $6 billion would be imperiled, while in North Carolina, offshore drilling would threaten 51,000 jobs and $2.2 billion in GDP. This when there is little demand for more oil.
But let’s not forget about the impact on marine life.
In Virginia and Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab, the protagonist in William W. Warner’s Pulitzer-winning Beautiful Swimmers, have survived just about every attack thrown its way — overharvesting, pollution and habitat destruction among others. Now, one threat looms that may be their death knell.
Maryland often takes credit for the blue crab, but every bay crab is born a Virginian. Pregnant females spend the winter at the mouth of the bay, then release their larvae to float as far as 50 miles out into the ocean, directly where energy companies are proposing to test and drill.
When they grow fins, they dive to the bottom and ride underwater currents back to the bay. Until then, they are vulnerable, and an oil spill could be their undoing, potentially killing an entire year of juvenile crabs. That’s to say nothing of the impact on other finfish and shellfish.
If implemented, seismic airgun blasts — which are used to identify offshore deposits and can be heard up to 2,500 miles away — would occur five million times, or every 10 seconds for weeks on end, disrupting turtle mating, whale migrating, fish feeding and other marine activities along the entire East Coast.
Among the louder noises in oceans, the blasts would endanger communities of beaked whales, which are particularly sensitive to underwater noise, off North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and could irreparably harm North Atlantic right whales, which are on the verge of extinction, with only 400 remaining in the Atlantic.
When the blasting is over, it’s time for the drilling. With oil spills, it’s not a question of if, but when, and the results can be catastrophic. The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, killed 11 workers and caused fisheries to lose $8.7 billion and 22,000 jobs by 2020. But leaving Deepwater aside, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management says that another 2,440 oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico between 1964 and 2015 discharged more than 12 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. A 2016 survey of the oil industry found an average 23 spills a day across the United States.
Offshore wells also pollute the air. An typical oil and gas exploration well releases roughly 50 tons of nitrogen oxides, 13 tons of carbon monoxide and six tons of sulfur oxides a year. And what goes up does come down. Almost 30 percent of the Bay’s nitrogen pollution, the chemical responsible for underwater dead zones, arrives on the wind, and introducing a new pollution source would put the bay’s fragile recovery at risk.
Communities up and down the east coast have voted to oppose offshore drilling. They all recognize the risk is simply not worth the meager rewards, if any, of more oil produced in an oil-glutted market on a planet with a rapidly changing climate threatening our very existence.
Now is the time to move away from expensive and inefficient fossil fuels toward a 21st-century regime of innovative, job-creating alternative energies that will promise a brighter future for all. And, at the same time, save precious marine life and coastal economies alike.
Harry Lester is chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Hampton Roads Business Roundtable. Louis Bacon is the chief executive of Moore Capital Management and founder and chairman of the Moore Charitable Foundation.