(C) The Washington Post washingtonpost.com
By Editorial Board, Published: September 5
In 2010, President Obama cleared the way for opening some 330,000 square miles of ocean off the East Coast, from the Delaware Bay to Florida’s Cape Canaveral, to exploration for oil and gas, of which there’s likely an enormous amount. As The Post’s Lenny Bernstein reported recently, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) estimates that there are some 3.3 billion barrels of oil and 3.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas off the East Coast, and those figures are based on data collected using outdated technology. The use of seismic guns has become a contentious issue among oil companies, conservationists and members of Congress since the Interior Department announced in March 2012 that it planned to allow them in the Atlantic.
Conservationists claim that using the guns off the East Coast would create a “war zone” for whales and dolphins. Some lawmakers, including Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), have complained to Mr. Obama that seismic air gun testing is only the first step toward a full embrace of offshore drilling.
The truth is that the battle is premature. Apart from the studies underway in the Gulf of Mexico, the government is updating its standards on noise levels that aren’t harmful to ocean life. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects to complete them by the end of this year or the beginning of next. The risks of seismic air guns will be clearer then; only when science has spoken should any decision be made on their use off the Atlantic coast.