Seismic surveyors follow rules to protect marine life
By Gail Adams
My Word columnist
OCTOBER 9, 2017, 10:00 AM
The United States has an 80-year history of discovering helpful scientific data from marine seismic surveying. Currently, less than 10 percent of federal waters are open for energy exploration due to current regulations. Also, to date, there is no scientific data indicating any risks to marine life associated with sound from seismic exploration activities.
Seismic surveying, which began in 1937 in the Gulf of Mexico, offers a detailed analysis of underwater structures — like a CAT scan of the ocean. Low-frequency sound pulses of air are released into the water and bounce off the rock layers. The returning sound waves are detected, recorded and turned into maps, which help us safely determine the location of potential energy supplies.
In a July 12 editorial on OrlandoSentinel.com, the Sentinel Editorial Board opposed oil exploration off the Atlantic Coast. The editorial reported that two U.S. House members, John Rutherford, R-Fla., and Don Beyer, D-Va., wrote a letter to U.S Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke declaring their opposition to the same. The lawmakers cited a perceived negative impact on our coastal fisheries as the reason for their stance.
The geophysical industry takes pride in being safe, accurate and above-board. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s chief environmental officer and the National Marine Fisheries Service both have said there are no confirmed instances where the sound from seismic surveying has harmed marine creatures. We comply with all required regulatory measures, including those established by the National Marine Fisheries Service, federal protection acts and BOEM.
Before operations begins, marine mammal observers or protected species observers check for marine mammals and other species with a specified precautionary exclusion zone. Other mitigation measures used to complement visual monitoring include passive-acoustic monitoring, power-downs and shutdowns when marine animals enter the exclusion zones.
Rutherford and Beyer’s letter states that the sound pulses used in surveying can disturb or kill marine life, even life “as small as plankton,” according to a study published in Nature: Ecology and Evolution. If the federal and state governments surrounding the Gulf of Mexico thought seismic surveying harmed marine life, it would not be in operation all these years. The reality is the Gulf of Mexico is filled with zooplankton, teeming with marine life and is one of the most productive fisheries in the world, as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Members of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors have conducted the seismic process for more than 45 years. The day-to-day geophysical industry operations are essential to discovering and delivering the nation’s energy resources, which are vital to long-term national and energy security.
The IAGC is committed to ensuring the production of safe, environmentally responsible geophysical data acquisition and results. Through research and more than eight decades of activity around the world we have found no reason to believe seismic surveying is anything less than the safest, cleanest, most energy-efficient technology for generating geological imagery.
Environmental issues can often be emotionally charged, but it is important to give the scientific facts more weight than subjective feelings.
Gail Adams is the Vice President of Communications and External Affairs for the International Association of Geophysical Contractors in Houston, Texas