On Nov. 30, the Trump administration approved five requests allowing companies to conduct deafening seismic surveys in the Atlantic Ocean that could harm tens of thousands of dolphins, whales and other marine animals.
Though the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) denied that the testing would harm ocean animals, numerous scientific studies show that acoustic sound can harm and potentially kill these animals.
But why would the administration want to do a seismic survey, which would put marine animals at risk? Because these tests are necessary in order to drill for oil in the Atlantic Ocean. This decision comes a week after 13 federal agencies on Black Friday declared in the Fourth National Climate Assessment that “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities.”
According to the report, the impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the U.S. and are projected to intensify — but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur, like the devastation caused by the California wildfires. Those actions will need to be taken by you and me, corporations, the state of Maine, President Donald Trump and the federal government.
It is the burning of coal, oil and gas that produces the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.
Seismic testing will likely lead to drilling, which leads to finding and producing more oil that will be burned, intensifying the climate change that 13 federal agencies warned us about last month. The tests will not only give us more climate change, but will potentially kill marine animals. This is tragedy compounding tragedy.
The decision is likely to anger governors in states along the eastern seaboard who strongly oppose the administration’s proposal to expand federal oil and gas leases to the Atlantic. The authorizations give permission for surveys across a stretch of ocean between Delaware and Florida.
Every state executive on the coast, with the exception of Gov. Paul LePage, opposed the plan. These federal leases could lead to exploratory drilling for the first time in more than a half-century.
In addition to harming sea life, acoustic tests — in which acoustic waves are sent through water 10 to 12 seconds apart to image the sea floor — can disrupt thriving commercial fisheries. Governors, state lawmakers and attorneys general along the Atlantic coast say drilling threatens tourism that has flourished.
Seismic testing provides a map of the ocean floor and gives an estimate of the whereabouts of oil and gas, but only exploratory drilling can confirm their presence. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that soiled the Gulf of Mexico resulted from such an exploratory drill.
But the most important danger of Trump’s decision to engage in seismic testing is that it will likely produce more fossil fuel, which will exacerbate climate change. The harm caused by climate change is occurring now, and the results are many.
The Fourth National Climate Assessment says that “high temperature extremes and heavy precipitation events are increasing. Glaciers and snow cover are shrinking, and sea ice is retreating.” The report notes. “Seas are warming, rising and becoming more acidic. Flooding is becoming more frequent along the U.S. coastline. Growing seasons are lengthening, and wildfires are increasing.”
Without more significant global action by ordinary citizens, corporations, states and national governments, climate change is expected to cause substantial losses to infrastructure and property and impede U.S. economic growth over this century. Regional economies and industries that depend on favorable climate conditions, such as agriculture, tourism and fisheries (all important in Maine), are increasingly vulnerable to the harm caused by climate change.
The Trump administration’s desire to do seismic testing will make it harder for us to bring climate change under control. It is a risk that we cannot afford.
Rev. Richard Killmer is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Yarmouth.