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Gillibrand opposes offshore seismic tests

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in her Manhattan office

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in her Manhattan office on April 22. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Imagine a roaring jet engine. That starts and stops every 15 seconds or so. For 24 hours.

That jet engine is about half as loud as the seismic air guns oil and gas drillers use to locate new wells, a method scientists say kills all manner of marine life, from plankton to fish to whales.

The U.S. Department of Interior is expected to soon decide whether to grant seismic permits in the Atlantic Ocean, according to the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

So she urged the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to reject any permits.

“Opening up the Atlantic to this harmful and nuisance-causing testing in order to support the exploration for oil and gas, which we on the coast do not want and do not need, should not be approved by your agencies,” she wrote in a June 12 letter.

“This activity runs counter to the Federal government’s responsibility to be a good steward of our nation’s ocean resources and their habitat.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it was reviewing Gillibrand’s letter; the bureau’s acting director, Walter Cruickshank, said: “BOEM is committed to ensuring protection measures will be in place before any Atlantic seismic survey activity occurs.”

Gillibrand joins Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and other officials in opposing the tests — the first step in the Trump administration plan to open the Atlantic to oil and gas firms.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who promises to block any drilling in state waters, said it could imperil 1,000 miles of the state’s coastline.

Developing the coast for this industry and even small spills could gouge Long Island’s ocean tourism, which produces $4 billion a year, the New York attorney general’s office has told the federal government, outlining its opposition.

Though New York controls only the first three miles of ocean closest to shore, Cuomo has vowed to assemble a “citizen fleet,” a la Winston Churchill’s Dunkirk, to stop any exploring or the building of an oil platform.

Scientists say seismic air guns can be so deadly for marine life not just because they are so loud, but because the compressed air bubbles are blasted into the water as often as five or more times per minute — for a day or longer.

And the blasts can travel hundreds or thousands of miles.

Two years ago, scientists from Scotland to New York to North Carolina warned then President Barack Obama such tests would substantially increase the risk that North Atlantic right whales — one of the most endangered whales — “will further slip into decline and would jeopardize its survival.”

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