Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Offshore oil exploration: Can the average citizen make a difference?

Environmentalists and some scientists say the use of seismic air guns in undersea oil and gas exploration can harm and even kill whales, dolphins, turtles, and "larval krill" a main food source for whales (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of Oceana)
Environmentalists and some scientists say the use of seismic air guns in undersea oil and gas exploration can harm and even kill whales, dolphins, turtles, and “larval krill” a main food source for whales (HNNDaily photo/Courtesy of Oceana)

To the average American it often seems that our elected leaders, once they get to Washington, D.C., can become somewhat hard-of-hearing to the wants and desires of the voters who sent them there.

Such is the case with the recent approval of a permitting process by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which will allow seismic air gun exploration in the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast of the United States – an activity, experts say, that is extremely hazardous for whales, dolphins, turtles, and other sea creatures.

Hundreds of municipalities have already expressed formal opposition to both air gun exploration and offshore drilling, as have hundreds of state and local legislators.

In Hampton Roads, cities already opposed to exploration and drilling include Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Hampton, and Newport News.

So do the voices of the people really matter?

“Local voices do matter. It can feel like they don’t, but we all need to speak up,” said Laura Habr, co-owner of Croc’s 19th Street Bistro in Virginia Beach.

Habr is also active in the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association and is a founding board member of the Business Alliance to Protect the Atlantic Coast, a leading business organization working to ensure long term health and economic vitality of the Atlantic seaboard, and which has received the support of more than 42,000 businesses and 500,000 commercial fishing families in its efforts to protect the Atlantic Coast from offshore oil/gas exploration and drilling.

Seismic airgun blasting is 100,000 louder than a jet engine and the sound can travel more than 1,000 miles underwater (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of Clean Ocean Action)
Seismic airgun blasting is 100,000 louder than a jet engine and the sound can travel more than 2,000 miles underwater (HNNDaily photo/Courtesy of Clean Ocean Action)

Habr said the various groups she’s involved with are currently formulating plans, but she added that even more voices are needed. Individual citizens, small business owners, and others should write or email their representatives; write or join organizations already working to protect the coast from offshore oil drilling; and even write the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Department of the Interior – the federal agencies that will, in the end, decide on matters such as seismic air gun testing and offshore drilling.

Terra Pascarosa, Virginia Campaign Organizer for Oceana, the world’s largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation, agrees that citizens can be heard and can make a difference.

“It resonates every time they hear from a person and every time they hear from a municipality,” she said. “We need businesses, teachers, professors, scientists… we need everyone to speak out. Not just environmental groups. Everyone knows we’re against it.”

In addition to writing local, state, and national leaders, Pascarosa said people can spread the word on social media and help to educate and inform others to what she said are the environmental dangers of oil exploration and drilling.

Permits for seismic airgun testing from five companies are currently under review (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of Oceana)
Permits for seismic airgun testing from five companies are currently under review (HNNDaily photo/Courtesy of Oceana)

Both Pascarosa and Habr agree the jobs and economic benefits that are always promised in situations like this are false.

“This will not bring money nor jobs to Virginia. It will cost us jobs actually,” Pascarosa said, adding that the people who know how to do airgun testing will come from elsewhere, as will the vast majority of workers on any future oil platforms.

Habr said testing and drilling are “not worth the risk.” Virginia and its residents are not in line for any royalties if gas or oil is found off the coast of the state.

“It’s all downside,” she said. “There’s no upside.”

John Mangalonzohttp://wydaily.com
John Mangalonzo (john@localdailymedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.

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