Commentary

Ban Offshore Drilling and Seismic Testing Off NJ Coast

By MICHELE S. BYERS | Jul 19, 2017

Summer is in full swing at the Jersey Shore. Over the next couple of months and into the fall, millions of visitors will head “down the shore” for the beaches, fishing, boating and ecotourism activities such as whale and dolphin watching.

It’s hard to imagine New Jersey without its thriving shore tourism economy, dependent on a healthy ocean and a clean coastline stretching from Sandy Hook to Cape May. The same goes for its commercial fishing industry, which supplies fresh seafood to countless restaurants and markets.

But tourism and commercial fishing in New Jersey are once again threatened by a bad idea that comes back again and again: ocean drilling for oil and gas along the coast of this state.

In April, President Trump signed an executive order reopening the possibility of drilling in the waters off the East Coast, including New Jersey. Then, on June 5, the Trump administration proposed to issue five permits for offshore seismic testing, a first step to oil exploration.

Trump’s executive order would undo an executive order signed by President Barack Obama last December, reinstating a moratorium on offshore drilling from Massachusetts to Virginia.

New Jersey’s congressional delegation has objected strenuously to both the offshore drilling and seismic testing proposals.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Congressman Frank Pallone, Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker and seven other congressional representatives said drilling off the Atlantic coast would have “severe economic and environmental impacts” on New Jersey.

“Tourism along the Jersey shore generates almost $40 billion each year and supports half a million jobs – including the fishing, boating and recreational industries,” according to the letter. “Allowing offshore drilling would unnecessarily threaten the economies of the communities that rely on a thriving coastline. Fragile marine ecosystems and species would also be placed in danger of a potential future environmental disaster resulting from a blowout or other failure offshore.”

In a separate letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service, New Jersey’s entire congressional delegation – Democrats and Republicans alike – expressed concern about the proposal to issue permits for seismic testing.

Seismic testing is not benign. Large air guns are towed behind ships, repeatedly firing loud blasts at the ocean floor. The sound waves produced by these blasts bounce back to the surface, and help measure the presence of oil or gas.

These blasts are harmful. “Seismic testing can disrupt migratory patterns, cause marine wildlife to abandon important habitats and disrupt mating and feeding,” the legislators said. “The sound wave tests can also destroy fish eggs and larvae. These tests can also cause deafness in whales and dolphins, both of which rely on hearing to reproduce, locate food and communicate.”

To stop offshore drilling, two pieces of legislation have been introduced. One would prevent the Trump administration from renewing the five-year oil and gas leasing process, while the other – known as the COAST Anti-Drilling Act – would permanently ban offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

These bills must become law. The severe harm that would occur from drilling and testing on marine fisheries and populations of whales and dolphins is unacceptable. And a catastrophic oil spill would cause long-term degradation of New Jersey’s beaches.

Organizations including Clean Ocean Action and the American Littoral Society have worked hard to protect our oceans for decades. “Citizens of New Jersey spent a lot of years cleaning up the ocean – we didn’t do that to turn over our waters to big oil,” said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society. “We know where we drill we spill, and that’s unacceptable to the shore economies that depend on a clean ocean.”

The economies of New Jersey and other coastal states depend heavily on tourism, which would fail without a healthy marine environment. In New Jersey alone tourism and fishing industries bring in $50 billion a year and employ over 500,000 people. Offshore drilling and seismic blasts must be permanently prohibited.

You can help! Contact your congressional representatives and let them know you fully support their efforts to permanently stop offshore drilling and seismic testing along the Atlantic coast.

Michele S. Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, based in Far Hills, N.J.

 

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