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Interior mulls plan to drill in Atlantic, endangering dolphins and whales

Bottlenose dolphin and her young
Bottlenose dolphin and her young
Peter Asprey

The US surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia in 2013 to snag the world’s top spot for petroleum and natural gas production, which was estimated by the Energy Information Administration to result in about 25 million barrels a day.

As the Obama administration continues on its “all of the above” energy plan, the Department of the Interior initiated efforts on Thursday, which could result in opening the Atlantic to oil drilling after the current ban put in place in the 1980s is lifted in 2017.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell earlier this week discussed the possibilities in the Atlantic with a group of mostly Republican governors called the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition.

Newly elected Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe [Unlink] is the only Democrat in the group. He joins Republican Govs. Pat McCrory (NC), Phil Bryant (Miss.), Robert Bentley [Unlink] (Ala.).

Jewell, an Obama appointee, was clear on her position.

"We are not here to get in the way of energy development; we are here to get things right," Jewell told the governors of the forthcoming environmental analysis, according to a source close to the meeting, as reported in The Hill.

At question by environmentalists is the seismic activity required for such planning, which would be used for mapping the ocean floor in search of potential energy sources like oil, gas and marine minerals.

Many precautions for the protection of whales and marine life against seismic and air-gun testing were included in the review, but the potential for harm remains high.

According to Michael Wines’ report in The New York Times, the Interior’s own study estimates that a staggering 27,000 dolphins and 4,600 whales could “die or be injured” during annual exploration periods.

But some scientists say those figures are excessive and remain mostly concerned about the potential long-term side effects of noise on marine life that lives for decades and potentially centuries.

Wines explained it like this” “Loud sounds like seismic blasts appear to cause stress to marine mammals, just as they do to humans. Experts say seismic exploration could alter feeding and mating habits, for example, or simply drown out whales’ and dolphins’ efforts to communicate or find one another.

“But the true impact has yet to be measured; there is no easy way to gauge the long-term effect of sound on animals that are constantly moving.”

Seismic testing isn’t the only concern about placing more oil-drilling platforms in the ocean off pristine coastal beaches.

Almost four years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, NOAA estimates over 1,000 dolphins have died from oil and dispersants, which created dead zones that killed everything from microbes all the way up the food chain to whales, while destroying vital wildlife habitats and damaging breeding grounds.

Environmentalists see whales and dolphins as intelligent sea-going creatures worthy of better stewardship. Carl Sagan [Unlink] once wrote this observation about humanity’s treatment of whales:

The lesson is not about whales and dolphins, but about ourselves. There is at least moderately convincing evidence that there is another class of intelligent beings on Earth beside ourselves. They have behaved benignly and in many cases affectionately toward us. We have systematically slaughtered them.

If the installation of more oil wells in Atlantic waters gets a formal green light from the Interior, it could invite unforeseen damage and disasters, all for the production of more fossil fuels under the guise of bolstering energy security and creating jobs espoused by the American Petroleum Institute.

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