ONLINE UPDATE: CB Town Council opposes seismic testing

by Sam Wilson
Friday, February 28, 2014

The Carolina Beach Town Council unanimously approved a resolution against proposed seismic testing off the Mid-Atlantic coast, a day after the federal government released a report that recommended allowing the controversial practice, but with mitigation measures designed to protect marine life.

The council’s special meeting preceded its Feb. 28 regular meeting, and about a dozen residents who showed up to support the vote applauded the resolution’s passage.

After the special meeting, mayor Dan Wilcox said the council’s vote stemmed in part from the Kure Beach Town Council’s Jan. 27public hearing, which drew hundreds of local residents after Kure Beach mayor Dean Lambeth signed a letter in support of allowing the tests, which use powerful blasts of air to survey the ocean floor for oil and gas deposits.

“We listened to everything at the Kure Beach hearing, and I think we all independently knew where we stood on it,” Wilcox said. “I’m not necessarily against offshore drilling, depending on what methodology you use … I’m just not hearing compelling information to make me feel it is a safe process, as it stands.”

Environmentalists have expressed concerns that the air blasts and resulting sound waves kill and injure marine life, including protected species such as right whales and sea turtles. They point to government studies that estimate up to 138,000 marine mammals could be killed as a result of the testing.

But the oil and gas industries have maintained that the practice is safe for marine mammals, and that the tests are necessary for determining the extent of fossil fuel reserves off the Mid-Atlantic coast. Andy Radford, a senior policy advisor for the American Petroleum Institute, said during the Kure Beach meeting that no impacts to marine life have been proven after decades of seismic testing across the globe.

Carolina Beach resident and board chair of the Surfrider Foundation’s Cape Fear chapter Ethan Crouch spoke in favor of the resolution, thanking the council for their vote. He added after the meeting he had mixed reactions to the federal report, released by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Feb. 27.

“I’m glad BOEM didn’t pursue ‘Option A,’ which is sort of the full-out testing procedures. I’m glad they are trying to use the best mitigation strategies,” Crouch said. “But whether those mitigation strategies will be sufficient to protect marine life remains to be seen.”

The report, known as a programmatic environmental impact statement, reviewed existing studies and scientific data addressing seismic testing, and recommended several mitigation practices in its preferred alternative, including seasonal closures of areas in response to marine mammal migrations and sea turtle nesting, and site-specific environmental assessments of the area before testing begins.

Nine companies have pending applications with BOEM to conduct seismic surveys in the Mid-Atlantic. Six of those applications include areas off the coast of Southeast North Carolina in their proposed survey maps. One of the applications was incomplete and not available from the agency’s website.

During a Feb. 27 conference call accompanying the release of the report, BOEM Director Tommy Beaudrea stressed that the recommendation required stringent environmental restrictions.

“We’re really going to require and demand a high level of environmental performance,” Beaudrea said. “Essentially, [the surveyors] are really going to have to up their game and use the best technologies to avoid any potential conflicts and environmental impacts.”

The report is available for public review and comment until April 7. After that date, Beaudrea said the agency could begin reviewing and processing the applications, although he noted that many will likely require revisions before moving forward.

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