Thanks to the successful legislation Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) helped to pass in 2006, drilling rigs are banned from Florida’s Gulf coast through 2022. The Atlantic side of the state may also now be safer from the damaging effects of seismic blasting, with Nelson’s announcement on Friday of his new bill to prohibit the dangerous practice of seismic blasting off Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Seismic blasting, the first step towards offshore drilling, it is used by oil and gas companies to search beneath the ocean floor for oil and gas deposits. These airguns are towed behind ships, blasting compressed air through the water every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for days to weeks on end. This endless barrage of extreme noise can disrupts the feeding, reproduction and development of marine animals and could even lead to eventual death. Earlier this year, 75 scientists cautioned against the adverse effects seismic blasting may have on marine life, from small fish eggs to the large, endangered North Atlantic right whale. In a letter to President Obama, the scientists urged him to halt the use of seismic blasting off the entire U.S. Atlantic coast.
While Florida was excluded from the federal government’s five-year draft plan to lease portions of the Atlantic for oil and gas development, ten companies have applied to conduct seismic blasting in state waters as early as this year. For communities in Florida, these blasts, and their effects on marine life, pose a threat to residents and local business owners long before rigs even enter the water. Deafened dolphins, dead whales and depleted commercial fish stocks not only can jeopardize the natural environment, but also the state’s fishing and tourism industries. Sen. Nelson cited the importance of the state’s tourism-driven economy in his decision to propose the bill as well as a Florida Department of Environmental Protection letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management asking them to stop the permitting of seismic blasting off the state’s coast.
Through the efforts of local governments and Oceana, 18 coastal communities in Florida have passed resolutions opposing seismic blasting, including Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral, and New Smyrna Beach. Additionally, rallies in St. Augustine and Jacksonville drew hundreds of participants who value and enjoy the natural beauty of Florida’s waters. The outpouring of opposition to seismic blasting has drawn national attention to importance of maintaining a healthy and sustainable ocean ecosystem, as well as the need to invest in safer and cleaner alternative energy, such as offshore wind.
Nationally, over 87 members of Congress, over 400 state and local elected officials, and more than 160 conservation and animal welfare organizations have opposed the use of seismic airguns and offshore drilling. Many not only wish to stop the harm to marine life or prevent their towns from becoming the next oil refinery, but also oppose the continued use of a dirty and dangerous resource. With his new legislation, Sen. Nelson has bolstered Florida as a leader in opposing seismic blasting, and ultimately reaffirmed his opposition to offshore drilling in Florida.
Claire Douglass is a campaign director at Oceana, the largest international advocacy group solely dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans.