The suit aims to void permits allowed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that opened up oil and gas exploration in Cook Inlet in southern Alaska. The suit alleges that NOAA violated the Endangered Species Act by issuing the permits without protecting Cook Island belugas. The law requires the formal 60-day notice before the agency can be sued, according to The Associated Press.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Cook Inletkeeper teamed up to send notice that they will sue NOAA.
NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a disturbing new population estimate last week that showed whale numbers are far lower than previous estimates and their numbers are dropping rapidly, as Reuters reported.
The NMFS report estimated that only 279 beluga whales remain in Cook Inlet, a steep decline from the nearly 1,300 that lived there in 1979. The population decline has accelerated to an annual rate of 2.3 percent over the last decade, which is four times faster than previous estimates, according to NMFS, as Reuters reported.
Cook Inlet runs almost 200 miles from Anchorage to the Gulf of Alaska. It supplies energy for the south-central part of the state. The industrial activities there threaten beluga whales, which swim there and feast on salmon and other fish, according to The Independent.
The Center for Biological Diversity said these "daunting" numbers mean exploration planned by Hillcorp Alaska needs to stop immediately, as The Independent reported.
The plaintiffs are demanding a new assessment of oil and gas exploration since the Trump administration used higher, inaccurate beluga whale numbers when it gave a permit to Hillcorp Alaska. The permit allows the petroleum company to "take" beluga whales as part of its operations. "Take" is a nebulous term that allows the company to harass and harm whales. The environmental groups want a guarantee that Cook Inlet belugas can recover from any of Hillcorp Alaska's operations, according to The Associated Press.
"Since we pressed for listing the Cook Inlet Beluga whale as endangered in 2008, the drive for corporate profits and complacent government bureaucrats have conspired to stifle progress for this dwindling stock," said Bob Shavelson, advocacy director for Cook Inletkeeper, in a statement. "Hilcorp should do the right thing and abandon its plans for new drilling in Cook Inlet."
"The tragic decline of these lovely little whales spotlights the risk of allowing oil exploration in their habitat," said Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. "If we're going to save these belugas, the Trump administration must cancel permission for the oil industry to use seismic blasting and pile driving in Cook Inlet. These animals are hanging on by a thread, and we can't let them be hurt even more."The groups said that seismic blasting used in exploration and deep-sea mining causes blasts heard miles away. The blasts can register up to 250 decibels. For reference, standing next to a jackhammer is 100 decibels. Those underwater blasts can cause hearing loss in marine mammals, severely disrupt communication between pods, disturb feeding and breeding grounds, and reduce their ability to catch fish, according to the environmental groups, as The Associated Press reported.
By Rebecca Bowe
Send an army of industry workers into remote polar bear territory in the dead of winter, and things are not going to end well.
Earthjustice has long worked to defend the Arctic Refuge, which now faces the greatest threat in decades as the Trump administration barrels forward with plans for an oil and gas lease sale as early as next year. Members of the public have until Feb. 11 to comment on a draft plan to hold a lease sale.
Congress opened the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge to industry leasing for the first time ever in December of 2017, by tacking a drilling provision onto a federal tax bill to avoid a filibuster. Most Americans are against drilling in the Arctic Refuge because the wilderness has extraordinary ecological value that warrants the highest safeguards. Bipartisan opposition has historically prevented industry from harming this cherished landscape.
Polar bears on the coastal plain will be especially vulnerable to harm from seismic operations and drilling. Proposed oil exploration activities pose substantial risks of death or serious injury to denning mother and cub polar bears, according to the analysis of Dr. Steven Amstrup, chief scientist for Polar Bears International. Polar bears, classified as marine mammals, are already struggling. Sea ice is vanishing, a consequence of warmer winter temperatures, and polar bears cannot survive without it. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, reduced sea ice could result in the loss of approximately two-thirds of the world's polar bears within 50 years. The agency predicts Alaska's polar bears will be "extirpated under current emission scenarios"—which means they will go extinct if nothing is done to address climate change.
Scientists refer to the polar bears that live in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as the Southern Beaufort Sea population. The coastal plain, the specific area of the Refuge where the fossil fuel industry envisions setting up oil-drilling equipment, is an important polar bear denning area.
The Southern Beaufort Sea population has declined by approximately 40 percent in recent years, which has made it more important than ever that the bears can successfully birth and raise young. As ice melts away, polar bear mothers are increasingly going on land, to the coastal plain, to build their dens—and they are particularly vulnerable to disturbance while denning. The combination of having more polar bears on shore and more people conducting seismic testing operations means there will be more interactions between people and bears, resulting in greater risks to bears.
Polar Bears in the wild Arctic off the north slope of Alaska, near Kaktovik on Barter Islandcheryl strahl / Flickr
Enter SAExploration, a private oil-industry outfit that submitted an application to conduct seismic testing on the coastal plain. Working 24 hours a day for months on end, this company envisions sending work crews of 150 people or more into this polar bear territory to map out oil and gas reserves. It would navigate 90,000-pound vehicles in a grid pattern across the landscape, sending vibrations into the ground and carving lasting impressions into the tundra. The crews would consume an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 gallons of fuel per day. An incinerator would burn garbage waste on site.
SAE has submitted a petition to the federal government for "incidental take authorization" for polar bears. The word "take," as defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, means "to harass, hunt, capture, or kill" a protected species.
According to Dr. Amstrup of Polar Bears International, SAE's proposal could bring deadly consequences. Amstrup warned in a letter to the Bureau of Land Management:
"Lethal disturbances are likely when a heavy vehicle actually runs over a den … On average, if there are 11 undetected bear dens on the refuge, a seismic survey like that proposed by SAE has a 25 percent chance that at least one polar bear will be killed when a heavy vehicle runs over it. Less lethal disturbances are likely when heavy vehicles pass … [nearby] a den."
Amstrup notes that even with the use of infrared surveys to mark the location of polar bear dens, as many as half of the occupied dens will go undetected across the vast landscape. The scientist concludes:
"It is virtually certain that most undetected polar bears in their dens will be disturbed at some level."
There are many good reasons to oppose oil and gas industrialization in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It would destroy one of the last truly intact wilderness areas on Earth, an open expanse of public lands that for decades remained off-limits to drilling precisely because Congress recognized its extraordinary value. Greenhouse gas emissions from extracting and burning Arctic Refuge oil reserves would worsen global climate change, making life worse for future generations. It would also disrupt migrating caribou, in turn violating the human rights of indigenous Gwich'in people who rely on caribou as a primary food source.
"Earthjustice is fighting Trump's headlong rush to consign the coastal plain to large-scale industrial oil activities," said Anchorage-based Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe. "As we speak, the administration is on course to permit seismic testing as early as this winter without legitimate environmental review and without even identifying what law it thinks authorizes this activity."
As the Trump administration and its friends in the oil sector prepare to shatter the wintry silence of the Arctic Refuge with major industrial operations in just a few months' time, the threat to endangered polar bears speaks volumes about the current administration's disregard for wildlife and the public lands we all cherish.
#Trump Administration Sued Over Controversial #Arctic Drilling Project https://t.co/yFj74Sn62x @peoplevsoil @CenterForBioDiv @Defenders— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1545170416.0
Rebecca Bowe is the communications strategist for Earthjustice's Northwest and Alaska regional offices.
- Arctic Oil Drilling Project Approved by Trump Administration ... ›
- Polar Bears Could Be Nearly Gone by 2100, Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Finally, some good news about the otherwise terrible partial government shutdown. A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration cannot issue permits to conduct seismic testing during the government impasse.
The Justice Department sought to delay—or stay—a motion filed by a range of coastal cities, businesses and conservation organizations that are suing the Trump administration over offshore oil drilling, Reuters reported. The department argued that it did not have the resources it needed to work on the case due to the shutdown.
Although Judge Richard Gergel of the U.S. District Court in South Carolina granted the stay on Friday, at the same time, he effectively halted federal workers from moving forward on any oil-drilling matters until the government re-opens and is funded, as the Southern Environmental Law Center explained in a celebratory press release.
"The government was trying to have its cake and eat it too, and we're pleased the Court did not allow that to happen," said Laura Cantral, executive director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, one of the groups suing to stop seismic blasting in the Atlantic, in the press release. "This is an issue of critical importance to the coast, and one that must be handled openly, transparently, and fairly. This ruling will allow that to happen, and that is good for all concerned."
Environmentalists have been angered about the federal government giving Big Oil a bye during the shutdown, after the Department of Interior recalled Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) workers to continue permitting onshore and offshore oil and gas drilling and testing.
But as Gergel wrote in his order: "The Court hereby enjoins the federal defendants, BOEM, and any other federal agency or entity from taking action to promulgate permits, otherwise approve, or take any other official action regarding the pending permit applications for oil and gas surveys in the Atlantic."
Freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC), who introduced a bill that puts a 10-year moratorium on drilling off the Atlantic Coast and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, celebrated the ruling.
"I applaud the decision of the federal court to block the Trump Administration from issuing permits to conduct seismic testing during this government shutdown. As I have said before, any step towards offshore drilling is a step in the wrong direction," he said in a press release.
However, he urged for a more "permanent solution to the threat of dangerous and unwanted offshore drilling and seismic airgun blasting."
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson is motioning to join a federal lawsuit that opposes the Trump administration's plans to conduct seismic airgun blasting off the Atlantic coast.
"Practically, that means the case over the seismic permits will be on hold for the duration of the shutdown plus as many as 18 additional days to hear Wilson's motion to intervene," the Southern Environmental Law Center said.
- What the Government Shutdown Means for Our Coasts and Ocean ... ›
- How the Government Shutdown Could Impact the Nation's ... ›
- Trump Administration Approves Harmful Seismic Blasting in Atlantic ... ›
- Huge Victory: Seismic Blasting Is Halted in Atlantic Ocean - EcoWatch ›
Australia's petroleum regulator granted permission for seismic blasting in the Great Australian Bight, sparking fierce outcry from environmentalists over its threat to the area's marine life, whihc include endangered blue and southern right whales.
On Monday, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) gave the green light to oil and gas exploration services company PGS Australia's application for seismic surveys off the coast of South Australia's Kangaroo Island and Eyre Peninsula between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30 this year.
Seismic blasting approved in the Great Australian Bight in Southern Australia.NOPSEMA / PGS
During the survey process, loud, continuous and far-reaching soundwaves are blasted onto the bottom in search of oil or gas reserves.
This noise can damage the hearing and potentially disorientate and kill marine life, displace fish, devastate zooplankton and cause whales to beach. Blasting can also impact commercial and recreational fishing by decreasing catch rates.
"Seismic blasting has a devastating impact on marine life. It has been likened to being next to an exploding grenade and these deafening blasts will detonate every ten seconds, 24 hours a day, for more than 90 days," Greenpeace Australia Pacific senior campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said in an online statement.
Seismic testing is the first step to offshore oil and gas exploration and development.
"The only reason to conduct seismic survey is to find locations to drill for oil, putting coastlines at further risk from an oil spill," Pelle said.
Breaking! Govt agency NOPSEMA has given the green light to big oil & gas to conduct seismic testing just 90km off K… https://t.co/emnnZStvwB— Sarah Hanson-Young💚 (@Sarah Hanson-Young💚)1547498651.0
PGS' plan includes measures aimed at protecting pygmy blue whales, southern right whales and southern bluefin tuna, but Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association spokesman Brian Jeffriess wondered if these safeguards would effectively prevent a full survey from taking place.
"It's been approved but with such strict conditions on sightings for example of blue whales, of disruption to the pattern of southern bluefin migration," Jeffriess said, according to ABC Australia. "It's impossible to see how it can proceed, economically."
Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association spokesman Matthew Doman said that "we have a very long track record of conducting seismic in Australian waters without impact on the marine environment," as quoted by ABC. He added no wells have been drilled in the Great Australian Bight in the last 15 years.
"Our energy mix is changing, the role of renewable energy is increasing … our industry is very much a supporter of that," he said. "But we will use a lot of oil and a lot of gas for decades to come."
"Seismic testing is the first step toward economically devastating oil spills and climate disasters like flooding u… https://t.co/3yzgFlYsvK— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1543597813.0
Democratic attorneys general from Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York filed a motion on Thursday to intervene in a lawsuit filed earlier this month by several conservation groups and South Carolina coastal communities.
These seismic surveys will expose marine life to repeated sound blasts louder than 160 decibels, according to a press release from Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, who is leading the coalition.
What's more, the release noted, these tests are a precursor to offshore drilling for oil and gas, which will harm coastal and marine resources should a leak occur.
"Seismic testing will have dangerous consequences for hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, including endangered species," Frosh said in the press release. "While the administration continues to place the interests of the fossil fuel industry ahead of our precious natural resources, attorneys general up and down the Atlantic coast will continue to fight these and other efforts to open the waters off our shores to drilling for oil and gas."
Diane Hoskins, campaign director for Oceana, one of the nine conservation groups suing the Trump administration, applauded Thursday's motion from the AGs.
"These attorneys general are standing up for their states, their way of life and their coastal economies," Hoskins said in an emailed statement to EcoWatch. "Putting our oceans, marine life and coastal economies at risk for dirty and dangerous offshore drilling is wrong and we are not backing down. Seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic defies law, science and common sense. They acted unlawfully and we're going to stop it. Oceana is pleased so many states are joining this critical fight."
Last month, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued five Incidental Harassment Authorizations that permit companies to use airgun blasting in waters off the Atlantic coast.
"Seismic testing is the first step toward economically devastating oil spills and climate disasters like flooding u… https://t.co/3yzgFlYsvK— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1543597813.0
During these seismic surveys, ships fire blasts of air to the bottom of the sea every 10 to 12 seconds for weeks or months at a time to map the contours of the ocean floor in search of oil and gas deposits. The loud, continuous and far-reaching noise can damage the hearing and potentially disorientate and kill marine life, displace fish, devastate zooplankton and cause whales to beach. Blasting can also impact commercial and recreational fishing by decreasing catch rates.
"The federal government's decision is flat-out wrong, and offshore drilling will harm our pristine coast and the residents and industries that rely on it," New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Thursday at a news conference, as quoted by CBS. "Now it is also clear the (Trump) administration is willing to harm over 300,000 marine mammals, even endangered species, in pursuit of its fossil fuel agenda."
- Seismic Blasting Devastates Ocean's Most Vital Organisms ›
- Huge Victory: Seismic Blasting Is Halted in Atlantic Ocean - EcoWatch ›
Despite vehement opposition from communities, businesses and lawmakers along the Atlantic coast, the National Marine Fisheries Service on Friday is expected to issue five permits, or Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHA), that allow deafening seismic surveys to search for offshore oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean.
During the seismic surveys, ships fire blasts of air to the bottom of the sea every 10 to 12 seconds for weeks or months at a time to map the contours of the ocean floor. The loud, continuous and far-reaching noise can damage the hearing and potentially disorientate and kill marine life, displace fish, devastate zooplankton and cause whales to beach. Blasting can also impact commercial and recreational fishing by decreasing catch rates.
Seismic Testing Is Torturing Marine Life www.youtube.com
Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), who is poised to assume the chairmanship of the House Energy & Commerce Committee in January, blasted the Trump administration's approval of the permits.
"Seismic testing risks injuring and killing critically endangered species, severely disrupting economically important fisheries, and threatening the Jersey shore," Pallone said on his website. "An environmentally sound coast is critical to New Jersey's economy and it is very possible that seismic testing could lead to oil and gas drilling off our coast—threatening public health, coastal communities, and hundreds of thousands of jobs. Members from both sides of the aisle will work tirelessly to fight this reckless decision by the Trump administration."
BREAKING: Trump administration approves seismic testing permits for the Atlantic Coast. Seismic testing is both dan… https://t.co/mU4UjazW5k— Rep. Frank Pallone (@Rep. Frank Pallone)1543590070.0
Environmental organizations were outraged at the news and vowed to fight the action.
"Just one week after issuing dire warnings on the catastrophic fallout of climate change to come, the Trump Administration is opening our coastlines to for-profit companies to prospect for oil and gas—and is willing to sacrifice marine life, our coastal communities and fisheries in the process," said Michael Jasny, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement provided to EcoWatch.
"This is the first step towards drilling and scientists warn that seismic activity alone could drive the endangered North Atlantic right whale to extinction. We'll stand with citizens, coastal businesses, scientists, lawmakers, and commercial and recreational fishermen who oppose seismic blasting, and we will fight this illegal action," Jasny added.
North Atlantic Right Whale Population Dips Below 450 After 'Deadliest Year' Since Whaling Era https://t.co/2XFXL2yu0z @environmentca— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1507338049.0
Seismic airgun blasting has been proposed within the same main range of imperiled North Atlantic right whales. According to Bloomberg, the IHAs will block surveys during the calving season for the critically endangered species.
The companies that won the permits are: TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Co. Asa; Schlumberger Ltd. subsidiary; WesternGeco Ltd., CGG Services US Inc.; Spectrum Geo Inc.; and a unit of ION Geophysical Corp.
The five companies still must secure permits from the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management before they can start, but those are expected under President Donald Trump's plans for "energy dominance," Bloomberg reported.
Seismic data has not been gathered in the mid- and south-Atlantic regions, from northern Florida to Delaware, for at least 30 years. In January 2017, the Obama administration denied six permits to conduct seismic surveys, concluding that airgun blasting was too risky.
But Trump signed an executive order in April 2017 to aggressively expand offshore drilling in America's publicly-held coastal waters. The order also called for a "streamlined permitting approach for privately funded seismic data research and collection."
Greenpeace USA climate director Janet Redman condemned the Trump administration's anticipated approval of seismic blasting in the Atlantic.
"This is exactly how you push climate change past the point of no return," Redman said in a press release. "The Interior Department can still stop this madness, but they need to hear from every single person who is worried about climate change and every leader in Congress who claims to care about the future. Seismic testing is the first step toward economically devastating oil spills and climate disasters like flooding up and down the Atlantic coast. Stopping seismic testing is a must."
The U.S. government released a report that warned climate change could kill thousands of Americans each year and sl… https://t.co/hV9Me7Imgu— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1543333511.0
Lawyers with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) were similarly outraged by the news, noting that more than 200 local governments along the Eastern Seaboard have passed resolutions against offshore drilling and seismic testing. At least a dozen states have voiced opposition to offshore drilling.
"Permitting seismic blasting in the South Atlantic is completely out of touch with Southeast communities, business leaders, and elected officials who have consistently and overwhelmingly rejected offshore drilling and the seismic blasting that precedes it," said Catherine Wannamaker, an SELC senior attorney, in a press release. "Seismic surveys not only pave the way for offshore drilling that no one wants here, but they also endanger whales, dolphins, and fisheries, and threaten coastal economies. Communities up and down the coast have made clear they do not support seismic blasting in the Atlantic, and they will continue to fight the Trump administration turning its back on them."
Following today's announcement, Oceana launched a new interactive map that displays near real-time activity of apparent seismic vessels in the so-called "Blast Zone." Anyone can use the "We're Watching" map, which uses the technology of Global Fishing Watch, to track the vessels.
"If these companies are allowed to begin seismic airgun blasting, our map gives the public near real-time access to the precise locations of vessels so that they know when, where and if these activities begin off our coast," Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana, said in a provided statement. "This interactive map is a powerful tool in the fight to protect Atlantic communities from offshore drilling."
The red outline on the map refers to the "Blast Zone"—the area at risk of new seismic airgun blasting.Oceana
Note: This post has been updated to include Oceana's map and statement.
- Seismic Blasting Devastates Ocean's Most Vital Organisms ›
- Watchdog Accuses Trump's NOAA of 'Choosing Extinction' for Right Whales by Hiding Scientific Evidence - EcoWatch ›
Deepwater Horizon Anniversary: Trump Administration Ignores Advice on Preventing Explosions, Injuries, Blowouts
The Trump administration is ignoring advice from the bipartisan commission that investigated the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster as officials move to repeal offshore drilling safety regulations adopted in its aftermath.
Friday is the eighth anniversary of the explosion that killed 11 oil workers and caused more than 210 million gallons of oil to flow uncontrolled into the Gulf of Mexico for more than three months, killing thousands of marine mammals and birds.
"Deepwater Horizon was a deadly reminder that offshore drilling is dangerous. Refusing to learn from this disaster threatens workers, wildlife and coastal communities," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Trump's plans to get rid of safety rules dishonor the dead and ramp up the risk of another catastrophe."
The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling made a series of recommendations in its January 2011 report to President Obama. Only the most significant ones—including a well-control rule that would have prevented the explosion and blowout preventer rule to seal compromised wells—were adopted. They are now being targeted for significant rollbacks by the administration, which is expected to publish revisions in the near future.
Commission co-chairs Bob Graham and William K. Reilly wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke almost a year ago, shortly after President Trump ordered an expansion of offshore drilling and more industry-friendly rules to govern it, urging restraint in his deregulatory zeal.
"The Commission members hold the unanimous view that weakening or rescinding the Well Control Rule would aggravate the inherent risks of offshore operations, put workers in harm's way, and imperil marine waters in which drilling occurs," they wrote in a May 8, 2017 letter, in which they called that rule "the most broadly important measure to come out of what the Commission learned."
Offshore incidents—including fires, explosions, injuries and the loss of well control (also known as blowouts)—have all steadily declined since 2014, according to data from Bureau of Safety and Environment Enforcement, which was created in the wake of the 2010 disaster. Better regulations and inspections adopted after Deepwater Horizon seem to be paying off, despite the Trump administration's stated desire to rescind them.
Yet the annual number of offshore oil spills (those spilling more than 2,100 gallons of oil, chemicals or drilling mud) has remained high since 2010, when Deepwater Horizon was among nine offshore oil spills. From 2012 through 2017, there was an average of more than 20 serious offshore spills per year, the bureau's data showed. From 2000-2009, spills averaged 17 per year.
That number could dramatically increase in the coming years as the administration tries to expand drilling in almost every U.S. ocean. Based on its draft 2019-2024 outer continental shelf oil and gas program and our analysis of historic federal spill data, oil spills could increase to more than 100 per year. This does not account for catastrophic oils spills like the Deepwater Horizon or a weakening of regulations.
Aging offshore drilling infrastructure and an oil industry more concerned with profits than public safety are likely factors in the high number of annual spills.
As The New York Times reported last month ("Trump Rollbacks Target Offshore Rules 'Written with Human Blood'"), small oil companies backed by private equity firms have bought up older offshore wells in the Gulf and are pushing hard to make them more profitable. These companies had much higher rates of offshore safety violations than the industry average and have publicly pushed the Trump administration to roll back offshore drilling safety regulations.
"Offshore drilling can't be made safe, but they can make it much more dangerous. This is pure greed coupled with an administration that is reckless and willfully ignorant," Sakashita said. "The legacy of Deepwater Horizon shouldn't be just ecological destruction. We need to learn from it."
The spill left the seafloor coated in oil and dispersant chemicals to this day. Studies show dolphins, sea turtles and some fish species are still experiencing problems due to the spill. Yet the Trump administration continues to permit offshore fracking and seismic oil surveys that harm sperm whales and other imperiled species.
Nearly 400,000 Gallons of Oil Spews Into Gulf of Mexico, Could Be Largest Spill Since Deepwater Horizon https://t.co/TIvmO6hNub @Greenpeace— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1508277310.0
The Trump administration is holding the biggest offshore oil and gas lease auction in U.S. history Wednesday, offering all 77 million acres of unleased, available federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
The sale comes as administration officials seek to rescind drilling safety rules approved after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, reduce royalties paid by oil companies, and expand offshore drilling into every ocean in the country.
"Trump is selling off our oceans and selling out coastal communities and marine life to the oil industry," said Kristen Monsell, oceans program legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Whales, dolphins and Gulf seafood are already marinating in oil spills and industry wastewater. More drilling and less regulation will make the next Deepwater Horizon disaster only a matter of time."
Oil companies have drilled more than 52,000 wells in the Gulf of Mexico and installed more than 7,000 platforms, many of which are inactive and still littering the Gulf. A recent New York Times investigation found dangerous conditions on Gulf platforms and taxpayers being left to cover the costs of cleanups and decommissioning of old drilling infrastructure.
Whales, sea turtles and other imperiled wildlife are being harmed by offshore oil drilling and exploration. A federal study conducted as part of the settlement of a lawsuit involving the Center for Biological Diversity found more than 30 million marine mammals in the Gulf would be harmed by seismic oil and gas exploration.
Oil spills are a routine part of offshore drilling. The Center for Biological Diversity has calculated that drilling the offshore parcels being offered in today's lease could result in about 2,700 oil spills dumping more than 16.7 million gallons of oil into the Gulf over the life of the lease, based on industry data. That doesn't include catastrophic spills such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 oil workers and thousands of marine animals, from which the Gulf still hasn't recovered.
The federal government also allows toxic fracking chemicals and other oil wastewater to be dumped into the Gulf without regard for its harm to wildlife. Federal documents show more than 75 billion gallons of oil wastewater were dumped into the Gulf in 2014 alone.
The federal government approved more than 1,500 fracks in offshore oil wells in the Gulf in one recent five-year period. Center for Biological Diversity scientists have found that at least 10 toxic chemicals routinely used in offshore fracking could kill or harm several marine species, including marine mammals and fish.
"Trump is turning over Gulf waters to oil companies with no regard for the devastating consequences," Monsell said. "This is a bad deal for people and the planet."
Nearly 400,000 Gallons of Oil Spews Into Gulf of Mexico, Could Be Largest Spill Since Deepwater Horizon https://t.co/r0wWUcZNm2 @greenpeace— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1508261261.0
But the situation appears to be getting worse: Researchers tracking the whales' usual calving grounds off Georgia and northern Florida have not seen a single calf yet this breeding season, which started in December and peaks in January and February.
To compare, an average of 17 calves a year were born from 1990 to 2014. Only five were born in 2017. It would be "unprecedented" if no calves are born are this year, as Charles "Stormy" Mayo, director of the Right Whale Ecology Program at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass, told the New York Times.
He noted that it's possible that the whales moved somewhere else to give birth, or calves might be found later in the season, which lasts through the end of March.
"I will not be surprised, though I will be excited, if we see a calf or two in Cape Cod Bay," said Dr. Mayo, whose research team tracks the animals in the bay.
The species has been struggling since the 1970s when they were first declared endangered. Last year, 17 of them died, or about 4 percent of its total population.
Entanglements from lobster trap lines and other commercial fishing gear have been responsible for 85 percent of all North Atlantic right whale deaths since 2010. Climate change also makes matters worse. Experts say that if the current trend continues, the North Atlantic right whale could go extinct by 2040.
Lobster Industry Ensnared in North Atlantic Right Whale Deaths https://t.co/73px17ThX3 @savingoceans @SeafoodWatch— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1518490825.0
And there's another looming threat. In April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at expanding offshore oil drilling and exploration. Seismic airgun blasting, which is used to find oil and gas beneath the ocean floor, has been proposed within the same main range of North Atlantic right whales.
Scientists warn that seismic airgun blasting is so incredibly loud and powerful that it could adversely affect the whales and other marine life. The government's own 2014 environmental review estimates that seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic could injure as many as 138,000 marine mammals like dolphins and whales, while disturbing the vital activities of millions more.
Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), who is leading a bipartisan group of New England Senators in introducing legislation to bar offshore drilling along the New England coast, was alarmed by the daunting status of right whale.
"The endangered right whale is heading towards extinction," he tweeted. "The only thing that would be more harmful for their chances of survival than @realDonaldTrump's offshore drilling plan would be actually hunting them for their oil. #ProtectOurCoast"
The endangered right whale is heading towards extinction. The only thing that would be more harmful for their chanc… https://t.co/LNmmOjiraB— Ed Markey (@Ed Markey)1519848047.0
Ireland's Dáil Éireann, the country's lower house of parliament, voted 78-48 Thursday to advance a bill to stop the government from issuing new contracts for both on and offshore oil and gas exploration.
Despite strong opposition from the Irish government, the legislation was backed by thousands of activists, campaigners, parliamentarians as well as a surprising supporter who believes in life after oil: Cher.
The "Climate Emergency Measures Bill," introduced by Solidarity-People Before Profit deputy Bríd Smith, underscores how fossil fuels are major contributors to climate change and how keeping them in the ground will prevent further damage to the environment.
"If we take the Paris climate agreement seriously the Oireachtas (parliament) will support this bill," Smith said during the vote.
Music icon Cher threw in her weight after a tweet from Green Party member Sinéad Mercier stating: "Ireland has 250,000 bottlenose dolphins visiting our seas every summer—we want to become the fourth country in the world to ban oil and gas drilling to protect them!"
The "Believe" singer responded, #HELLTOTHEYES.
This is my fav Cher saving the earth #ClimateEmergency article - look at this cutie dolphin pic! I'm #moonstruck!… https://t.co/aGrjFFKTKb— Sinéad Mercier (@Sinéad Mercier)1518184064.0
In a follow-up tweet, Mercier presented two images of the various licenses for oil and gas drilling and seismic airgun testing granted by the government.
The bill now heads to the Committee Stage in the parliament for scrutiny.
"Yesterday, the vote on the Climate Emergency Bill was a triumphant win in the struggle to stop climate chaos and environmental destruction," Ireland's Green Party tweeted Friday. "However, we have won the battle but not the war. We must make sure the bill is not stalled when at committee stage."
The Irish government opposes the measure over "energy security" concerns.
Last year, Ireland enacted legislation that banned onshore fracking.
THIS IS HUGE! Ireland Joins France, Germany & Bulgaria in Banning #Fracking https://t.co/MZYjPfqdjn @joshfoxfilm @MarkRuffalo @foe_us @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1498743553.0
“I support the governor's position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver," Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke said Tuesday. “As a result of discussion with Governor Scott and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms."
President Trump's proposal to massively expand offshore oil and natural gas drilling off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts drew criticism from liberals and conservatives alike, who warn that such operations at sea could expose coastal areas to the risks of blowouts, explosions, catastrophic spills and seismic blasting.
"My top priority is to ensure that Florida's natural resources are protected," he said after the Trump administration's announcement last week.
Some have questioned whether exempting Florida was a " political ploy" to aid Scott, who is reportedly planning to run for U.S. Senate. Florida is also a crucial swing state and home to President Trump's Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago.
"I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts. But now, suddenly, Secretary Zinke announces plans to drill off Florida's coast and four days later agrees to 'take Florida off the table'? I don't believe it," Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson said in a statement. "This is a political stunt orchestrated by the Trump administration to help Rick Scott, who has wanted to drill off Florida's coast his entire career. We shouldn't be playing politics with the future of Florida."
After talking with @FLGovScott, I am removing #Florida from the draft offshore plan. https://t.co/lZIfdCDNOR— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@Secretary Ryan Zinke)1515540051.0
Environmental groups casted similar doubts.
"It's blatantly obvious that Governor Rick Scott and the Trump administration are colluding to earn political points in an election year," said Jorge Aguilar, southern region director of Food & Water Watch. "While the decision to remove Florida from offshore drilling is a good one, the Trump administration should drop its dangerous and foolhardy plan to drill around the U.S."
Sierra Club Florida Director Frank Jackalone said the decision was "a purely political move to aid the ambitions of Rick Scott."
"Had Zinke cared about the wishes of coastal communities or how drilling off their coasts will affect them," Jackalone added, "he would have proposed a plan that shrinks drilling even further, not proposed expanding operations to nearly every corner of our waters."
The plan to exempt Florida from offshore drilling also sparked outcry from other state lawmakers opposed to offshore drilling.
“Virginia's governor (and governor-elect) have made this same request, but we have not received the same commitment. Wonder why ..." ￼Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) tweeted Tuesday.
Virginia’s governor (and governor-elect) have made this same request, but we have not received the same commitment.… https://t.co/uu3KxGA4xg— Tim Kaine (@Tim Kaine)1515543038.0
"New York doesn't want drilling off our coast either," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted. “Where do we sign up for a waiver @SecretaryZinke?"
New York doesn't want drilling off our coast either. Where do we sign up for a waiver @SecretaryZinke? https://t.co/dt1rJAEna1— Andrew Cuomo (@Andrew Cuomo)1515546105.0
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra demanded Zinke to "immediately" remove California from the policy.
[email protected]: California is also "unique" & our "coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver."… https://t.co/kI6ytIITbN— Xavier Becerra (@Xavier Becerra)1515544741.0
Filmmaker and outspoken Trump critic Michael Moore—who threatened to frack off the coast of the president's Florida vacation home after offshore drilling expansion was announced—also responded to the state's removal from the proposal.
"WAIT! WHAT? Trump's removing Florida from the list of states to do offshore drilling after I've already rented my fracking equipment to drill off Mar-a-Lago? Three days after I announce, he does this? Bastard!"
WAIT! WHAT? Trump’s removing Florida from the list of states to do offshore drilling after I’ve already rented my f… https://t.co/BYyrJzpzTG— Michael Moore (@Michael Moore)1515553940.0
Belize, home of the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, has permanently suspended oil operations in its ocean waters. The legislation marks the first time that a developing country has taken such a major step to protect its oceans—and all the life within—from oil exploration and extraction.
The new suspension of oil activity marks an enormous win for the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage site, the wildlife that live there, and the hundreds of thousands of Belizeans who rely on the reef for survival.
"Today is a great day for Belize," said Nadia Bood, Mesoamerican reef scientist at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). "Not only has its government listened to calls to protect the Belize Barrier Reef, which only last year was under threat from seismic oil exploration, it has stepped up to become a world leader in ocean protection by ending all oil activity in its waters."
Ecosystems in the reef have already been damaged by coastal construction, and potential oil drilling posed a major threat. Harmful industrial activities would impact Belize's economy, natural resources and the 1,400 species found in the reef system.
More than 450,000 people from around the world joined WWF's campaign to end oil exploration and other harmful activities in the reef.
Antonio Busiello / WWF-US
A National Treasure
The Belize barrier reef teems with life that will benefit from the new protections. The endangered hawksbill turtle, manatees and six threatened species of shark live in these waters. Vibrant corals abound, and aquatic animals shelter their young in mangrove forests along the coast.
And people will benefit from a healthy reef, too. Belize's economy is built on tourism, so the health of the reef directly impacts the country's future. Tourism alone is estimated to bring in between $182 million to $237 million per year, with reef-related tourism and fisheries supporting about 190,000 people.
"By acting to remove a major threat to the reef, Belize is safeguarding its future prosperity," Bood said. We hope today's announcement will encourage other countries to follow suit and take urgent actions needed to protect our planet's oceans."