Fossil Fuel Noise in the Arctic – website launches!

If you have been anywhere within earshot of the media recently you may have noticed that the Oilmen are on a bit of a rampage. Any sustainable energy program, environmental regulation, or legal challenge that does not promote their agenda is met with apoplectic derision as a “job killer” or worse.

Oil Seeking ArmadaOne of the drivers behind this is the American Petroleum Institutes (API) strategic plan to make America the #1 global oil and gas producer by 2018. API’s president Jack Gerard aims to accomplish this by expanding fossil fuel extraction on all US coasts, rolling back environmental regulations, and defending industry subsidies.

While it may just seem like the “flow of tides” in the public sector, those of us in conservation organizations are working overtime on many fronts: “Fracking,” East Coast drilling, Eastern Gulf lease expansion, Keystone XL, California Coast horizontal drilling, Outer Continental Shelf deep-water drilling, opening up the Arctic, and of course the climate impacts of these new fossil fuel energy sources – are all in play right now.

We have been anticipating this and for that last year have been working with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on a highly interactive and informative website specifically focused on the noise impacts of oil and gas operations in the Arctic.

“Don’t be a Buckethead” refers to the acoustical masking that all of the new introduced noise of industry will impose on the highly acoustic habitat of the Arctic Ocean (remember that it is mostly dark throughout the winter, setting the evolutionary stage for some amazing bio-acoustic adaptations). This point is illustrated with a fun and quirky “Buckethead” video on the website.

While we believe that a “full court press” on hydrocarbon development is generally a bad idea, given what we do know (and don’t know) about the risks and impacts, drilling in the Arctic is completely unacceptable.

Please help us halt this foolhardy proposal. Visit the Buckethead site to learn more – or cut to the chase and sign our petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service asking them to do their job and protect the pristine Arctic Ocean from industrial compromise.

Then visit the site…

The Arctic is changing fast, and it’s going to cost us a lot

I’ve just finished reviewing a 1600 page “Draft Environmental Impact Statement” (DEIS) issued for public comments about the five year plan for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. The objective of the “draft” is to provide US citizens the opportunity to chime in on how – and if – we want the US Arctic waters surveyed for oil and gas deposits.

It is particularly ironic that just as the DEIS was being issued Shell Oil began dealing with a huge oil spill off the coast of Nigeria and another spill in the Gulf of Mexico (which occurred during the same sort of exploratory drilling that is being proposed in the Arctic), and Chevron is currently dealing with yet another platform explosion off the Nigerian coast. This tragic irony is punctuated throughout the DEIS by the recurring statement that an oil spill would be “highly unlikely.”

The rosy assumptions of “negligible impacts” colors the entire DEIS; the subjective term “unlikely” is peppered throughout when addressing impacts of seismic airgun surveys, discharge of drilling “muds” and chemical waste, noise from shipping and air transport, air pollution, and noise from icebreakers. And while the “highly unlikely” oil spill is on everyone’s mind, many other adverse impacts of oil and gas exploration are not even addressed in the DEIS; for example the persistent noise of thruster-stabilized drilling platforms, underwater acoustical communications equipment, and erection of “jack-up rigs.” While these noises may not be as loud as the seismic airgun surveys addressed in the DEIS (which produce continuous series of explosions that can be heard hundreds to thousands of miles away in the ocean) they will nonetheless produce a chronic smog of noise pollution which will compromise the acoustical habitat that fish, whales, and other marine life depend on to communicate, find food, and evade predators.

It is clear that the intention of the exploration strategies proposed in the DEIS are not to “just find out what is out there,” but rather to find out where extraction operations will yield the best results. If there is one thing that is “highly unlikely,” it is that fossil fuel found in the exploration phase will remain untapped.

Clearing the way to extraction is the fundamental assumption made by issuing this exploration DEIS, and as such it is the gateway to rapid expansion of oil and gas operations in the Arctic – the impacts of which will make the proposed exploration impacts in the DEIS pale.

But there are those who argue that securing domestic energy supplies (and the millions of jobs that the American Petroleum Industry is promising us) will be worth the risks. Unfortunately the cost is extremely high. This is not just the cost to the environment, nor the cost of tax subsidies we give to the oil industry, nor the individual costs we all bear every time we drive our cars to the pump. The ultimate cost is the response of our planet to climate change. The impacts of this are most apparent is in the Arctic – with a second irony being that the receding Arctic ice cap induced by climate change is exposing ever more of the deadly treasure.

Time and time again, by way of systematic justifications of some environmental compromise or other we have been eroding the environmental health of the very habitat that we depend on for our own life support. This is evidenced by the continuous acceleration of species extinctions world-wide. This trend points to the fact that soon enough humans will find ourselves near the top of the “endangered” list – unless we begin to make broad systematic changes in the way we engage with our limited planetary habitat. Drilling in the Arctic is a bad way to start.

Marine Scientists express themselves through CNN

An article appeared today in “CNN Opinion” by Chris Clark and Brandon Southall focused on the impacts of noise on marine life. It is an informative read and also highlights two important trends in the field.

First, it points to a trend in impact awareness and research from incident-specific catastrophic impacts (such as sonar induced mass strandings) toward chronic compromise of habitat due to “sub-lethal” noise sources such as shipping noise and seismic airgun surveys. This keys into the more holistic “Ecosystem Based Management” concept introduced into NOAA’s regulatory framework by NOAA director Jane Lubchenko when she took the reins in 2009.

The second important trend is that noted scientists are stepping forward with opinions and recommendations – something that until recently was not in most scientists repertoire. This trend is becoming exceedingly critical given the more rapacious and troubling trend of policy makers and industry moguls of just making up convenient lies without regard for scientific fact – ignoring the hard, methodical work that scientists do to assure the integrity of their findings.

Drs. Clark and Southall are at the vanguard of this trend which will hopefully encourage scientists in all fields to reach out to the public with their findings. Given the urgent state of our global habitat – frayed by the frenzied drive of “The Economy,” scientific voices are profoundly needed to inform and influence public opinion and policies.

Thanks guys!

The Acoustic Ecology of Geophysical Surveys

OCR advisory board member and acoustic ecologist Jim Cummings sent us a New York Times article about life aboard geophysical research vessel (RV) Marcus G. Langseth wherein marine geologist Bernard Coakley writes about the acoustic environment aboard the vessel after winding down a survey operation.

He writes that while a lot of the compressors, airguns, sub-bottom profiling sonar, 12kHz scanning sonar, and the drone of the engines have subsided, the ship-board noise is still too loud to hear the evening movie selection in the crew lounge.

In speaking about the subsiding noise he mentions that the airgun array – which every 13 seconds for a month, and over 5,300 km of track data generated explosions and received seafloor reflections which “shook the aft end of the ship.”

Marcus G. Langseth, Research Vessel

Marcus G. Langseth, Research Vessel

What Coakley doesn’t mention – although it is implied in the setting, is that the noises he is enduring are only the incidental noises of the equipment and operations used for their scientific surveys. The intentional noises used in the surveys are purpose-focused into the ocean, and are by dint of this considerably louder in the water.

Of course the RV Langseth is only a research vessel, towing the relatively small arrays used in an academic context. Surveys conducted for the fossil fuel industry are often considerably louder than academic operations because in principal and in practice they are much better funded and are in turn looking for “deeper pockets” of hydrocarbons.

Industrial Survey Vessel

Industrial Survey Vessel

While the larger ships are probably much less noisy on board due to there being more “elbow room,” given that there are over 40 industrial surveys occurring world-wide at any given time, their contribution to global ocean noise has become a leading feature in the acoustic ecology of the sea.

Global Seismic Survey Operations

Global Seismic Survey Ops.

Yet another great reason to wean ourselves from oil.

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