Draft Environmental Assessment for the Central Coast Seismic Survey proposal

Federal Register announcement: Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Marine Geophysical Survey off the Central Coast of California, November to December, 2012

OCR Comments on Diablo Canyon Seismic Surveys

Seismic airgun bubble pulse and oscillation:

Seismic airgun audio:

Airgun and Echosounders

Recorded at Mid-Atlantic ridge, adjusted to 10x speed. Source: NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory VENTS Program

In the early spring of this year I was apprised of a proposed seismic survey action on the California Central Coast. The project taken on by PG&E is to map the geology, fault lines, and earthquake potential of the areas adjacent to and beneath the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.

Unfortunately at the time we were engaged in reviewing Draft Environmental Impact Statements (DEIS) for the Atlantic Coast seismic surveys and for the Atlantic Fleet Training Range and the Hawaii-Southern California Testing and Training Range. So by the time the PG&E DEIS for the project came across my desk the comment period had closed and I didn’t focus any concerted efforts reviewing it.

I was also honestly a bit relieved to not have been thrown into the ring on the Central Coast. This issue is incredibly contentious; with a nuclear power plant, fears of Fukushima-scale tsunami/earthquakes, as well as the environmental and economic health of the area at stake, there are many perspectives on the value, importance, and impacts of the project.

The Central Coast battle lines had already been drawn during the recent, and very contentious “Marine Protected Areas” scoping process, so between the commercial and recreational fishermen, the mothers, the surfers, the enviros, the “anti-government” wing-nuts, and a few *agents provocateurs*thrown in by the fossil fuel industry, they’ve had a great practice run for this new ‘discussion’ to be really messy.

Nonetheless the project does involve ocean noise pollution – OCR’s single
banner issue; it is right down the coast from our operations, and there are a number of people in our community who are asking us about the project, so wade in I will…

Being circumspect I will say that the entire project needs to be viewed under the rubric of “the balance of harms.” I believe that we humans can be pretty lousy neighbors when it comes to wildlife – marine and otherwise. We’ve already stepped into this up to our knees by building this power plant in the first place.

While I have not excavated the EIS as deeply as I would have had we decided to submit comments, I did review the thorough propagation modeling by Greenridge Sciences, and the fish and fisheries impact modeling by Tenera Environmental. The cetacean modeling and discussion was comprehensive but not as area-specific as I would like, and thus inconclusive.

It is clear that the project will be disruptive; that marine mammal feeding, foraging and social behaviors will be compromised; that fisheries and fish will be impacted, and that invertebrates may be harmed. It is likely that stress levels in all animals will be pushed up – with unknown intermediate and long term consequences. There will be short and intermediate term physiological and psychological impacts on many animals.

I don’t believe that doing the surveys concurrent to the annual Grey Whale migration makes sense – but other biological factors were entered into the model (e.g. fish breeding, egg and larval dispersal, etc.) that justified the timing decision.

None of this is good, but it will not cause the marine equivalent to a “scorched earth carpet bombing” that some of the opponents are advancing − something that could possibly occur should a yet-to-be identified fault line rip loose under the power plant.

The level of biological insult from the surveys will probably recover – particularly if the Central Coast Marine Protected Areas put in place earlier this year are honored.

One positive outcome of the contentious battles around this project is that the surveys were delayed and pushed across two years, so that the second year surveys can be tailored using biological observations from the first year surveys to decrease impacts; a mild consolation in light of the entire distasteful aspects of the project.

If there is an over-riding good in all of this, it is that we are learning how expensive nuclear power is. This should give us all incentives to conserve energy, and find less costly sources of renewable power.