The state of Florida is urging the federal government to postpone planned permitting of seismic exploration for oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean, saying there is not enough information about the impact on endangered whales, sea turtles and fish.
“Much of Florida’s economy is dependent on these healthy and sustainable marine and coastal resources,” the Florida Department of Environmental Protection wrote in a letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency overseeing the exploration.
The letter, dated April 20 and obtained by McClatchy on Monday, suggested that data on the effects of the seismic exploration in the ocean is “either severely limited or absent,” and that the state of Florida recommends delaying the permits until there’s more study.
State DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller did not respond to questions. But Erin Handy, Florida climate and energy campaigner for the environmental group Oceana, said Florida officials themselves could block seismic exploration off the state’s coast by refusing to sign off on permits.
“They do have the power to stop this,” Handy said.
The Obama administration this year opened a huge swath of the Atlantic from Delaware to Florida’s Cape Canaveral to potential seismic testing. Companies will do the tests with compressed air guns that blast as loud as a howitzer under the sea, repeated every 10 seconds or so for weeks at a time.
The echoes are used to produce maps that help company geologists figure out whether sub-sea rock formations are likely to contain fossil fuels worth drilling.
While the federal government says the seismic tests are safe, they are controversial. Seventy-five scientists, including some from Duke University, Cornell University and the New England Aquarium, wrote the president last month that the plan “represents a significant threat to marine life,” by posing a danger to hearing and activities necessary for survival of marine life.
The Obama administration scheduled an Atlantic oil and gas lease sale for 2021 off the coasts of the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia. While Florida is not in the drilling plan, it is still part of the seismic exploration zone There are 10 permit applications for seismic testing awaiting approval, and five include waters off Florida, the state environmental department said.
Florida wants the applications shelved “until data/information that is currently not available can be collected and effects assessed,” according to the letter, signed by state DEP Deputy Chief Carla Mautz.
Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management spokesman John Filostrat said the permit applications are under review and it would be “premature” to comment on the views of Florida regulators. BOEM has said there is “no documented scientific evidence” that the seismic tests are harmful, and that the agency will impose safeguards to protect marine life.
The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s main lobbying group, said seismic testing has gone on for decades in the Gulf of Mexico, and there’s no basis for Florida’s call for a delay in the Atlantic.
Several Florida cities, including St. Augustine and Cape Canaveral, passed resolutions against the seismic exploration. Oceana’s Handy said the federal safeguards proposed to protect marine mammals during the seismic exploration for oil and gas are “completely inadequate.”