Seismic Testing and
Offshore Oil & Gas Exploration
The Georgia Conservancy opposes efforts by the Federal government to open the Atlantic Ocean and Georgia's offshore waters to oil and gas exploration.
The Trump Administration's November 2018 decision to open the offshore waters of Georgia's coast for seismic testing in an effort to expand oil and gas exploration goes against sound science, economic realities and widespread opposition from coastal communities up and down the Eastern seaboard.
The Georgia Conservancy’s Coastal Policy envisions a healthy, resilient and diverse coastal ecosystem that can endure natural and human disturbances, continue to perform its natural functions, and support self-sustaining populations of native fish, birds, wildlife and plants.
In line with our policies and marine conservation efforts, the Georgia Conservancy is opposed to seismic testing in our Atlantic waters due to the potentially harmful disturbances that seismic air gun blasting has on marine ecosystems. Seismic testing for oil and gas reserves produces extremely loud blasts which can potentially harm marine life temporarily, and in more deadly cases, permanently.
The 2014 Marine Mammal Hearing and Sensitivity to Acoustic Impacts study indicates that shipping, seismic surveys, and oil and gas drilling have negative impacts on several species of whales, fish and dolphins, especially between the 10 Hz to 1 kHz range. Frequency related disturbances are likely to result in driving marine life from their habitat, damaging sensory organs including hearing and disrupting natural behaviors including breeding and foraging - all potentially leading to mortality.
Many species of commercial and recreational larval fish recruit in our offshore waters. Larval fish are especially sensitive to environmental changes and rely upon environmental cues in order to successfully recruit. Therefore, environmental disturbances are likely to disturb their natural behaviors. Seismic blasting could increase the mortality rate thus severely impacting these species’ natural life cycles for recruiting and spawning.
The Georgia Conservancy has concerns for many depleted marine species that occur within the proposed testing area. Of particular concern is the Atlantic bluefin tuna. Due to overfishing off of the western coast of Europe, North Africa and in the Mediterranean, Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks around the globe have been severely depleted. This is part of the same stock that visits Georgia’s offshore waters after making a trans-Atlantic migration from breeding grounds in the Mediterranean Sea.
Proposed seismic blasting locations include areas where speckled hind and Warsaw grouper occur. According to the most recent status population data available, speckled hind and Warsaw grouper are classified as a Species of Concern by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and are undergoing overfishing according to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Recent data provided by NMFS indicates that speckled hind has only five percent of its fully reproductive population remaining, while Warsaw Grouper is at six percent.
Further compounding the issue, Georgia’s coast is home to various endangered marine species. These include the Atlantic and Shortnose sturgeon, and the North Atlantic right whale. The Georgia Conservancy has a long history of advocating for the protection of the right whale, Georgia’s official state marine mammal. Right whales are one of the most endangered whales in the world, with only about 450 remaining. Coastal Georgia has been identified as a critical habitat area for right whales from November through April.
In a letter to former President Barack Obama, more than 50 renowned ocean acoustic scientists collectively emphasized “the magnitude of the proposed seismic activity is likely to have significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts on the reproduction and survival of fish and marine mammal populations in the region”.
Offshore Oil & Gas Drilling
Additionally, the Georgia Conservancy views seismic testing as unnecessary. The potential disasters and environmental disturbances posed by oil and gas drilling off of the Georgia coast far outweigh the financial benefit, thus there is no need for seismic testing.
In August 2018, the Georgia Conservancy submitted comments to the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to express its concerns over the new administration's interest in developing an oil and gas leasing program for the outer continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean. As noted in the Federal Register announcement for this program (82 Fed. Register 126, July 2, 2017), the last such lease program that affected the Georgia Coast was in 1983. The Georgia Conservancy had a major role in opposing leasing for offshore drilling then, and we have an even heightened level of concern now, 35 years later.
Our issues with the oil and gas leases center primarily on the numerous ways it would damage critical ecosystems and disrupt the lives and economy of our coastal residents. There are more than 40 years of sound science that need to be considered by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Trump Administration. It is critical that this federal review process not be hurried for the sake of an energy independence policy wrought by a change in administration.
The Georgia Conservancy stands with other environmental organizations to call into question if South Atlantic Area leases are even justified and to question the hurried manner being used to reconsider the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing program when a previous administration excluded this area less than two years ago.
Former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, cabinet member in the Obama Administration, announced on November 11, 2016 that the 2017-2022 OCS leasing plan would not include the Atlantic, in large part because BOEM data from 2016 found that more than 70 percent of the recoverable oil was included in the already-approved lease program.
Georgia’s extensive estuaries comprise one third of the East Coast’s remaining salt marshes, and they play a critical role in maintaining our shrimp and fish populations. Further compounding the issue, Georgia’s coast is home to various endangered marine species, as mentioned above.
In 1975, the Georgia Conservancy became an active stakeholder when we started to follow plans to develop domestic oil production on Georgia’s coast. In May 1976, the Georgia Conservancy began working with what would become the Coastal Zone Management program, created to bring together government, the petroleum industry and environmental representatives to consider the onshore impact of offshore oil and gas development. Then as now, the Georgia Conservancy realizes such drilling off of our coast would bring demands to onshore natural resources and public services, as well as introduce the increased risk of oil spills and health hazards. Additionally, if oil and gas exploration moves forward, there will be a major question looming for our coastal communities as they struggle to deal with our disrupted tourism and seafood industries.
Since the 1970s, a host of partner organizations working collaboratively has greatly advanced our understanding of the unique coastal ecology of Georgia’s offshore, marshes and critical nearshore habitats. These organizations have included the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resource Division, the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute, The Georgia Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary and Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve. During this time, the population of Georgia’s coastal region has more than doubled. Given the unique conditions of Georgia’s coast with only four of the 14 barrier islands being significantly inhabited, any offshore oil and gas piping or support infrastructure will be located in populated areas (barrier island or mainland) or in conserved critical maritime coastal habitat.
Our federal agencies and elected officials should recognize that Georgia has done a remarkable job protecting our coastal assets for the benefit of our citizens, and that the largest functioning marsh estuary on the East Coast should not be jeopardized by this leasing program. Elected officials from Islamorada, Florida to Maine, including the Governors of neighboring Florida and South Carolina, have stated their opposition to seismic testing and offshore oil and gas drilling due to economic and environmental concerns. The Georgia Conservancy believes that our elected officials in Georgia, both at the local, state and Federal levels, should reiterate or declare their opposition to this most recent effort by the Trump Administration to expand oil and gas exploration and infrastructure into our offshore waters and onshore communities.
The Georgia Conservancy is adamantly opposed to seismic testing and oil and gas drilling in Georgia’s offshore waters. It is not in the best interest of our state or our nation and the risks far outweigh the reward. We appreciate the opportunity to voice our concerns in hopes that our elected officials will acknowledge and accept the scientific and economic data that refutes the need for oil and gas drilling off of Georgia’s coast.
Please contact your elected officials at both the State and the Federal level to encourage their opposition to seismic testing and drilling off of Georgia’s coast.
Click here for more information on the Georgia Conservancy's Coastal Program