Carolina Beach council opposes seismic testing

by Sam Wilson
Wednesday, March 5, 2014


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 the Friday, Feb. 28 regular meeting. About a dozen residents supported the vote applauding the resolution’s passage.

After the special meeting, Carolina Beach Mayor Dan Wilcox said the council’s vote stemmed in part from the Kure Beach Town Council’s Jan. 27 public hearing, which drew hundreds of local residents after Kure Beach Mayor Dean Lambeth signed a letter supporting the tests that 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 like right whales and sea turtles. 

Oil and gas industries have maintained the practice is safe for marine mammals, and the tests are necessary for determining the extent of fossil fuel reserves off the mid-Atlantic coast. 

Andy Radford, 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 around 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 its 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. 

The report reviewed existing studies and scientific data addressing seismic testing, and recommended several mitigation practices, including seasonal closures of areas in response to marine mammal migrations and sea turtle nesting, and site-specific environmental assessments before testing begins.

“Whether those mitigation strategies will be sufficient to protect marine life remains to be seen,” Crouch added.

Six out of nine pending applications to conduct seismic surveys in the mid-Atlantic include areas off the coast of Southeast North Carolina in their proposed survey maps. 

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.

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