BOEM Issues Notice of Public Open House Informational Meetings for the Geological and Geophysical Permitting Process on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf

U.S. Department of the Interior
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
Special Information
Atlantic G&G Outreach-Special Information Sheet1

March 2015

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) would like to announce public open house informational meetings on the Mid- and South Atlantic Coasts. The meetings will provide citizens an overview of the geological and geophysical (G&G) permitting process and provide citizens an opportunity to learn and comment on BOEM’s geological and geophysical activities on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).
BOEM will hold public open house informational meetings in March and April 2015. The open house meetings will demonstrate the G&G permitting process through a poster session. The following public open house meetings are planned for the G&G permitting process:
Norfolk, Virginia: Tuesday, March 31, 2015, DoubleTree by Hilton, 1500 North Military Highway, Norfolk, Virginia 23502; two meetings, one meeting from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. EDT and the second meeting from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. EDT;
Annapolis, Maryland: Wednesday, April 1, 2015, DoubleTree by Hilton, 210 Holiday Court, Annapolis, Maryland 21401; two meetings, one meeting from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. EDT and the second meeting from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. EDT;
Dover, Delaware: Thursday, April 2, 2015, Hilton Garden Inn, 1706 North Dupont Highway, Dover, Delaware 19901; two meetings, one meeting from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. EDT and the second meeting from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. EDT;
Wilmington, North Carolina: Tuesday, April 7, 2015, Hilton Wilmington Riverside, 301 North Water Street, Wilmington, North Carolina 28401; two meetings, one meeting from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. EDT and the second meeting from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. EDT;
Charleston, South Carolina: Wednesday, April 8, 2015, Embassy Suites North Charleston-Airport/Hotel & Convention, 5055 International Boulevard, North Charleston, South Carolina 29418; two meetings, one meeting from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. EDT and the second meeting from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. EDT;
Savannah, Georgia: Thursday, April 9, 2015, Hilton Garden Inn Savannah Midtown, 5711 Abercorn Street, Savannah, Georgia 31405; two meetings, one meeting from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. EDT and the second meeting from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. EDT, and
Jacksonville, Florida: Tuesday, April 21, 2015, Embassy Suites Jacksonville – Baymeadows, 9300 Baymeadows Road, Jacksonville, Florida 32256; two meetings, one meeting from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. EDT and the second meeting from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. EDT.
For further information on the Atlantic G&G permitting process, please visit our website at
For further information on the outreach and G&G permitting processes, please email us at
If you would like to receive announcements for public meetings and the availability of our environmental documents for Atlantic OCS activities, please submit your name and contact information to BOEM at . You may also request to be removed from BOEM’s mailing list in the same way.

Miami Herald: Feds support air gun blasts to find Atlantic oil, gas

Thursday, 2/27/14whale

A study of what the controversial seismic tests would do to whales, dolphins and fish is on track for release at the end of February, an Interior Department official told lawmakers on Friday. Pictured is a North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis). GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES / NOAA/MCT

WASHINGTON — The Interior Department is endorsing seismic exploration for oil and gas in Atlantic waters, a crucial move toward starting drilling off the Carolinas, Virginia and possibly down to Florida.

The department released its final review Thursday, favoring a plan to allow the intense underwater seismic air gun blasts that environmentalists and some members of Congress say threatens the survival of whales and dolphins.

The oil industry wants to use the air guns to find out how much oil and gas lies along the U.S. Atlantic seabed. Federal estimates of a relatively modest 3.3 billion barrels of oil date from the 1970s and 1980s and are considered too low.

“The currently available seismic information from this area is decades old and was developed using technologies that are obsolete,” said Tommy Beaudreau, the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The federal government wants to use the information to decide whether to open up the mid- and south Atlantic to oil and gas drilling for the first time in decades. President Barack Obama had planned to start allowing drilling at least off the coast of Virginia, but he postponed consideration of the idea after the massive 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Interior Department’s plan is to start allowing underwater seismic air gun tests in an area from Delaware to Florida’s Cape Canaveral, though most of the push for offshore drilling involves the waters off the Carolinas and Virginia.

The seismic tests involve vessels towing an array of air guns that blast compressed air underwater, sending intense sound waves to the bottom of the ocean. The booms are repeated every 10 seconds or so for days or weeks.

The echoes are used to map the locations of subsea oil and gas deposits.

The Interior Department received more than 55,000 public comments on the proposal. Environmental groups warn that the blasts make whales and dolphins deaf, preventing them from feeding, mating and communicating. More than 50 members of Congress, including a few Republicans, have sent letters to the president opposing the seismic air gun tests and saying that up to 138,500 marine mammals could be injured by them.

Interior Department officials said their plan protected the endangered North Atlantic right whale by closing areas along the whales’ main migratory route to the air gun testing. Beaudreau said the tests would be monitored closely.

“We’re really going to require and demand a high level of environmental performance,” he said.

The environmental group Oceana said the protected area was too small and the endangered whales would suffer from the “dynamite-like blasts.”

“They are like the American bison of the ocean. They deserve protection. There are only 500 of them left,” said Matthew Huelsenbeck, a marine scientist for Oceana.

Oceana last week spearheaded a letter from more than 100 marine scientists and conservation biologists that urges the Obama administration not to approve the seismic tests until the National Marine Fisheries Services releases upcoming new acoustic guidelines for marine mammals.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is expected to give the final approval to the seismic testing plan in April. At that point the government would start reviewing the nine applications from companies that want to conduct the testing and decide whether their specific proposals should go forward.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash.,, said the seismic testing plan was a major milestone for efforts to open the Atlantic to oil and gas drilling.
“While it has taken far too long, this step today will help put America on a path to open new areas to more American energy production,” Hastings said.

The Obama administration is weighing whether to include mid- and south Atlantic oil and gas drilling in the next federal offshore leasing plan, which runs from 2017 through 2022.
The National Ocean Industries Association, a group that’s lobbying for offshore drilling,
said the Interior Department’s approval of seismic testing appeared to be a huge step. But the group said it needed to review the plan to make sure its restrictions didn’t make testing unworkable.

The industry group said seismic testing had been used for decades in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere in the world to make informed decisions about where to drill for oil.

There’s been controversy along the Gulf of Mexico, though, where the industry, environmental groups and government agencies settled a lawsuit last summer by putting some areas off limits to air gun testing for 30 months while environmental studies are conducted.

Email:; Twitter: @seancockerham

Read more here:

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Inside Climate News–Behind Russia vs. Greenpeace Furor, Unreported Oil Pollution of the Arctic

A Russian Coast guard officer is seen pointing a knife at a Greenpeace International activist as five activists attempt to climb the 'Prirazlomnaya,' an oil platform operated by Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom platform in Russia s Pechora Sea.  This is one example of the disproportionate use of force by the Russian authorities during a peaceful protest. The activists are there to stop it from becoming the first to produce oil from the ice-filled waters of the Arctic.
About 4 million barrels of spilled oil, as much as BP’s Gulf of Mexico spill, is flowing into the Arctic Ocean every year, Greenpeace says.
By Zahra Hirji, InsideClimate News
Oct 16, 2013

A Russian Coast guard officer points a knife at a Greenpeace activist as protesters attempt to climb the Prirazlomnaya oil platform in the Arctic Ocean’s Pechora Sea. Credit: Greenpeace

An environmental organization with a $350 million war chest, a giant protest vessel, 28 activists and a rubber raft have succeeded in drawing Russian President Vladimir V. Putin into a very public global dispute.

Attention is now focused on the Greenpeace activists-who were arrested last month by Coast Guard agents for trying to hang a protest banner on an Arctic Ocean oil platform-and whether they will languish in prison for up to 15 years each on dubious piracy charges.

“They are obviously not pirates,” Putin said in a speech to the International Arctic Forum last month. Yet Russian authorities so far seem to be throwing the book at the activists as international outrage grows to secure their freedom. Protests have been held at Russian consulates in about a half dozen cities worldwide to release the activists.

While the unfolding drama is now focused on issues of civil disobedience and human rights, underneath the uproar is a tangle of issues around Arctic drilling that Greenpeace has been campaigning to address for many years. And now it has secured the world’s attention and a chance to spark a discussion-and the stakes are high.

Earlier this year in a report called Point of No Return, the confrontational organization identified oil drilling in Arctic waters as one of the biggest climate threats being ignored by the world’s governments.

“Oil companies plan to take advantage of melting sea ice … to produce up to 8 million barrels a day of oil and gas,” Greenpeace said in the report. “The drilling would add 520 million tons of CO2 a year to global emissions by 2020.”

That Greenpeace would target Russia’s Prirazlomnoye oil platform-which this fall is expected be the world’s first offshore Arctic well-should not come as a surprise. And it is equally unsurprising that Russia, currently the world’s biggest oil producer, would react so sharply to protect its oil interests and the flagship project of its multibillion-dollar quest to drill, especially as the United States is overtaking Russia as the No. 1 energy producer.

“This is probably the strongest reaction we’ve gotten from a government since the French government blew up one of our ships [in 1985 in an anti-nuclear protest],” said Philip Radford, executive director of Greenpeace USA.

Hidden from view so far, however, has been the environmental damage the Arctic is already suffering at the hands of the Russian oil industry, a degradation that would likely get worse if the oil boom there continues without better regulation, according to Greenpeace and other Russian environmentalists and scientists.

Every year, according to Greenpeace, about 30 million barrels of oil products leak from wells and pipelines in Russia. An estimated four million barrels of that, roughly the size of BP’s Gulf of Mexico spill, flows straight into the Arctic Ocean through tributaries.

The precise impact of these spills on the fragile Arctic environment and its people is unknown but is likely substantial, Greenpeace says. For them the leaks-and the alleged lack of adequate means to deal with them-are an example of an inadequate safety culture in the country’s oil industry. And they’re causing deep concern about Russia’s aggressive push to start drilling for oil in open Arctic waters.

“Russia will not be ready for effective monitoring, supervising and working in the Arctic Ocean,” said Vladimir Chuprov, a Russian citizen and the head of energy for Greenpeace Russia in Moscow, the country’s main energy industry watchdog. Chuprov has been monitoring oil spills for the past decade.

Poor Record
While Russia produces 12 percent of the world’s oil, it is responsible for roughly half the world’s oil spills, according to Greenpeace Russia figures. Broken down, the numbers reveal that some 30 million barrels of petroleum leak from 20,000 inland spills each year.

Official government records paint a different picture. Russian environmental officials say there are only hundreds of inland spills a year. Among other omissions, however, those figures don’t include spills that dump less than 56 barrels, because companies aren’t required to report those incidents.

The two Russian oil companies that already received government approval to drill the Arctic have notorious records for oil accidents and spills.

The Prirazlomnoye platform in the Arctic’s Pechora Sea that Greenpeace targeted is owned and operated by Gazprom Neft Shelf LLC, a subsidiary of the state-run energy giant OAO Gazprom. Gazprom Neft was responsible for the country’s worst offshore oil disaster in December 2011, when a floating rig sank in the Sea of Okhotsk, killing 53 workers.
According to the company’s 2012 sustainability report, the company reported 2,626 pipeline ruptures that year and 3,257 ruptures in 2011.

Gazprom has landed several other licenses to build exploratory drilling wells and platforms in a half dozen other Russian Arctic seas.

Rosneft, another major state-run oil company and the country’s biggest oil producer, has also secured licenses and is expected to begin drilling its first well in early 2014.

Last year, Rosneft was named Russia’s worst environmental polluter by the regional paper Bellona after a government report found that the company had 2,727 reported spills in 2011 in a single northwestern province.

In an interview with InsideClimate News, Vladimir Antoshchenko, a Gazprom Neft Shelf spokesperson, said the Prirazlomnoye project was “based on strict demands on environmental and industrial safety.” He said the rig has Arctic-specific ice-crushing machines to blast floating icebergs and special boats to safely navigate the icy waters.

Alexey Knizhnikov, an environmental policy officer based in the Moscow office of the World Wildlife Fund, said he “has not seen any effective technology to combat an oil spill in ice conditions.”

Either way, environmentalists and other critics of Russia’s Arctic energy plans say there are deeper reasons why the country’s oil industry isn’t ready for Arctic drilling.

It wasn’t until the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that substantial environmental regulations for energy companies were introduced in Russia. The end of Communism brought the establishment of environmental advocacy in the country, which, among other factors, led to the roll out of more and better rules, such as financial penalties for oil spills, but they’re not enough.

For decades the government has been harshly criticized for concealing petroleum spills from the public and the media, levying meager fines that hardly discourage violators, and for failing to require companies to have adequate emergency response plans and spill response tools, among other criticisms.

Valentina Semyashkina, former chair of the Save the Pechora Committee, an environmental organization that works in the Arctic Komi Republic told InsideClimate News that “concealment of accidental oil spills” by energy companies is a regular occurrence. So is the government’s “turning a blind eye,” she said.

The Komi Republic, a province the size of Germany with a largely indigenous population, has been on the frontlines of Russia’s oil rush for years. Accidents have been prevalent, including a vast spill of as much as 2 million barrels from a corroded pipeline in 1994. The incident was first made public by a U.S. Department of Energy official who revealed the spill to the New York Times, prompting accusations of a Russian government cover-up.

“The power is always on the side of big businesses and never on the side of the citizens,” Semyashkina said.

She pointed to a recent oil spill in the Komi Republic. In late May this year, a local Komi resident on his way to work spotted a big blob of black gooey oil in the area’s Kolva River from a pipeline that tore apart in the early winter months. The pipeline’s operator, the Russian- and Vietnamese-owned company Rusvietpetro, had detected the rupture in November but nothing happened.

More than a dozen community members ran the cleanup, shoveling oil into barrels and putting them on the shore before the government emergency response officials arrived and took over about a week later. By late June, Rusvietpetro had repaired the line, which it said broke due to a drop in pressure in the line. The government response ended on July 25, after 3,500 barrels of oil spilled out.

A resident helps clean up the Kolva River oil spill/Credit: Greenpeace
The oil is still threatening the fish and cows that the local indigenous Komi people depend on to earn their living, according to Semyashkina. And several residents are still cleaning up the mess without compensation.

Rusvietpetro didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Local authorities say some of the oil and oil products have reached the Pechora River, a tributary of the Arctic Ocean, as is typical following spills in the Russian tundra, the country’s biggest oil-producing area, Greenpeace’s Chuprov said.

Arctic Challenges
About 13 percent of the planet’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its natural gas lie under Arctic land and water, most of it offshore, according to projections.

One-third of that oil and more than half of the gas is buried on and off Russia’s coastline. And for the first time, the trove of energy is accessible to drilling, a result of both global warming-which has turned the northern ice cap into mush in the summer months-and advanced drilling technology.

Drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean poses new and difficult challenges for industry, and this is particularly worrying for conservation advocates who oppose Russia’s advance into the Arctic.

“We saw how hard it was to respond to the serious offshore drilling incident in the Gulf of Mexico with the Deepwater Horizon spill,” said Doug Norlen, director for Pacific Environment, an advocacy and research organization that supports a moratorium on Arctic drilling. Now imagine a spill in the Arctic, where “you are dealing with places that are far away from response capabilities. … It’s a recipe for a disaster.”

Although drilling conditions vary across the ocean’s 5.4 million square miles, the risk of a blowout and a catastrophic spill are threatening all over. Fast-developing storms can wield hurricane-force winds. Icebergs up to a mile in length drift across its choppy currents.
Water temperatures typically hover well below zero. If an accident were to occur in countries lacking emergency response infrastructure along their Arctic coastlines-as in Russia-it could take emergency response crews several hours to arrive at the site under the best conditions and perhaps days.

Marilyn Heiman, director of the U.S. Arctic program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, said that to respond to spills immediately all countries bordering icy Arctic waters would need emergency response centers that are located within a few hundred miles of a drilling site.
These centers would have to be manned by response workers 24 hours a day, because once oil enters the sea, the dark slime can be carried to distant shorelines via strong ocean currents or sink to the depths of the ocean floor.

No country with icy waters has a center this close. In Alaska, the nearest Coast Guard response unit is around 1,000 miles from planned Arctic drilling locations. (It is unclear whether U.S. Arctic drilling regulations, to be released later this year, will require closer emergency centers at planned U.S. drilling sites.)

Knizhnikov of the environmental organization WWF said he’s skeptical that adequate centers will be built in Russia. “It will be very difficult to become reality because [the centers are] very costly,” he said. “It will take many, many years before they will be created, if they will be created.”

Companies in Control
Still, on July 1, Russia passed stricter safety standards and pollution cleanup regulations for offshore drillers than it has in place for inland operations.

Russia now requires companies to have more and better equipment to collect spilled oil-such as booms and skims on hand at all times at drilling sites. The rules also require companies to react to spills faster. According to Russian law, drilling operators must respond to spills at sea within four hours of discovering them, whereas companies have six hours to respond to spills on land.

Most experts say the regulations are not sufficient to address serious concerns about a major spill in the Arctic, one of Earth’s last pristine wilderness areas. For instance, regulations dictating the type of safety equipment and spill response operators must use are too general to be effective, many say.

Even those experts who say Russia’s rules are adequate have their worries.
“The regulations are good,” said Alexei Bambulyak, a Russian environment expert at the Norwegian environment research institution Akvaplan-niva. However, “whether they are followed or not is up to the [drilling] operators.”

The five counries with major Arctic claims-Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Russia and the United States-are moving somewhat slower than Russia, either because of uncertain energy prospects or environmental security and safety concerns.

Norway is the exception, but it has the world’s most stringent standards for offshore drilling safety and is drilling in warmer waters than Russia with less sea ice. In 2007, Norway’s Statoil became the first driller in the world to produce natural gas in Arctic waters.

According to Eric Haalan, a spokesperson for Statoil, Arctic drillers everywhere have “absolutely everything to lose” by working in the Arctic Ocean unprepared.

“Meaning, if we don’t do it properly, we lose more than anyone else. And we have seen the consequences of accidents that have happened in the past, and what effect that has had on even large companies,” he said.

Extreme Consequences
Greenpeace has a long history of taking a strong stand against Arctic drilling and other issues and accepting the consequences, according to Radford, the Greenpeace USA executive director.

“But the consequences by Russia are unbelievably extreme and illegal and unjust,” he said.
Twenty-eight Greenpeace activists and two journalists from 18 countries are sitting in prison and facing charges of piracy, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. Two of the activists tried to scale the tower on the Gazprom Neft platform before the Russian Coast Guard fired 11 warning shots into the water near their raft and ordered them to come down. They descended before they were able to hang a banner and were immediately arrested. The Coast Guard waited a day before raiding the Arctic Sunrise protest ship, where the other activists were located.

This week Russia denied bail to the U.S. captain of a Greenpeace ship and another activist.

The harsh reaction reflects Russia’s new urgency to tap its Arctic resource. Almost exactly one year ago, six Greenpeace protestors climbed the same Arctic platform and hung a banner, and the Coast Guard did nothing. In fact, oil company crew members reportedly gave them soup.

Radford said he hopes people see that the arrested Greenpeace activists were acting for the benefit of the world.

“They were doing this to alert the world of the first ever offshore deep Arctic well drilling that could cause radical climate change and could cause a huge oil spill that the [Russian] Coast Guard thinks is their nightmare scenario,” Radford said. “Now, that wasn’t for private gain, that was for the benefit of all of us.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter Groups say drilling tool will disturb Va. marine life

NORFOLK August 3, 2012

While oil rigs drilling off the coast of Virginia are still a question mark in the near future, local environmental groups will be making noise about the possibility today.

Beginning at noon, members of Oceana and the Sierra Club will blow horns and clang pots and pans at Waterside Festival Marketplace to symbolize the loud noises made by seismic air guns – devices used to identify oil and gas reserves in the ocean.
“The point is to be noisy,” said Eileen Levandoski, assistant director of the Virginia Chapter Sierra Club. But it won’t be a literal simulation. “We’d be too loud,” she said.

Surveyors use seismic air guns to send blasts toward the sea floor and measure their echoes to identify drilling prospects. The industry says the method hasn’t been shown to hurt marine life and is necessary to open drilling. But environmentalists say it could injure animals and disrupt migration and mating patterns.

“The unique part about this technology is that not only is it that first step (toward offshore drilling), but in and of themselves, the air guns are really, really dangerous and destructive,” said Caroline Wood, Virginia organizer for Oceana’s climate and energy campaign.

The U.S. government has estimated that 138,500 whales and dolphins in the Atlantic Ocean will be deafened, injured or killed by the blasts, according to the Virginia Chapter Sierra Club website. The North Atlantic Right Whale – of which only about 500 remain – is among the species at risk. The demonstration, which will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m., is one of many on the East Coast, Wood said, adding that similar demonstrations will take place in Virginia Beach and Alexandria.

Debate over offshore drilling, which is years away even under supporters’ most optimistic scenarios, is coming to a head this year. The U.S. House in June approved a bill to lift a moratorium on drilling in Virginia waters. The federal government will release a report this fall outlining the environmental impact of East Coast drilling.
Offshore drilling has the potential to create 18,000 jobs in Virginia by 2030, according to Nicolette Nye, vice president of communications and external relations of the National Ocean Industries Association.
Locally, drilling faces opposition beyond environmentalists: The Navy has opposed it in the offshore areas it uses, and the federal government has been reluctant to share royalties with coastal states, which local legislators say is key to their support.

Still, the environmental groups say they will keep making a clatter.
“We just want to make a lot of noise to get people’s attention,” Wood said.

Special thanks to Richard Charter Big hike in dolphin strandings has experts baffled,0,7140056.story

Dead and dying dolphins are washing up on Virginia beaches in numbers that are baffling marine stranding experts, who are hustling to determine the extent and pinpoint the cause. Dolphin beachings aren’t unusual in the summer months, and in a typical July the state might get six such reports. But by Thursday the number for this July had soared to 49 – and Mark Swingle with theVirginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach said they have no idea why.

“We really don’t know – I wish we did,” said Swingle. The aquarium’s Stranding Response Team has been gathering dolphin remains from throughout the Virginia coast – including two from Buckroe Beach in Hampton on Tuesday and one from Gwynn’s Island in Mathews County on July 26 – for necropsy and tissue testing. He said it could take two to three weeks to get results.

View/Submit Comments for this story

“In some ways, we’re trying to rush these tests to try and get a handle on what’s happening,” Swingle said. “We know there’s some sort of disease process going on. There’s no evidence on these animals of any sort of any human interactions.”
The number of reported dolphin strandings in Virginia for a typical year is about 64, he said. So far, the state has already seen 88. The unusual hikes were reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, which runs a network of stranding teams throughout the country.

So far, the only other state reporting an unusual uptick for July is New Jersey, said Maggie Mooney-Seus, spokeswoman for NOAA Fisheries. Their most recent number for New Jersey strandings is 20, but she said that figure might not reflect new strandings over the last couple of days. The state logged four strandings for July in 2012, and seven in 2011.

So far, she said, New York reported 15 dolphin strandings in July, Maryland seven and Delaware one. New York reported only one stranding July of last year, while Maryland and Delaware reported none. If enough unusually high numbers of strandings come in, she said, NOAA will assemble a team of experts to examine the data and necropsy results and determine if it qualifies as an “unusual mortality event.” The last such event in Hampton Roads occurred in 1987-1988, she said, and involved about 740 animals.

While that number was unusual, she said, dolphin beachings in general are not. “Keep in mind we do have strandings,” Mooney-Seus said. “They do occur regularly along our coasts and are caused by a number of reasons. If it’s a large population and living in close proximity, they’re not unlike deer populations or human populations where they can pass things to each other.”

Dolphin strandings can also be caused by entangling in fishing gear, ingesting plastics, toxic algal blooms or red tides, changes in water temperature and the rare vessel strike, as well as diseases like the distemper-like morbillivirus, which can also affect other marine animals such as seals, said Swingle. The stranding team hasn’t seen an uptick in stranding reports of other animals.

Determining the cause of death in a stranding can be hard, he said, especially if it’s not reported right away.
“The main thing is to call as soon as possible, because the sooner we get to the animals, the better the information we can get from them,” Swingle said. “It’s like the whole ‘CSI’ thing – if you have a fresh body, you can get a tremendous amount of information from it. If it sits in the sun for a day, it gets less valuable in terms of figuring out what’s happening.”
Seismic airguns. Meanwhile, environmentalists worry that even more such strandings could occur if geophysical survey companies are allowed to use seismic airguns to search for deposits of oil and gas buried deep beneath the sea floor, including off the coast of Virginia.

Airguns are typically towed behind ships and emit pulses of compressed air in a shock wave described as 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine. The airguns would boom every 10 seconds, day and night for days or weeks at a time.
To protest the plan, Oceana and the Sierra Club plan to make a big noise outside the Waterside Festival Marketplace in downtown Norfolk beginning at noon Saturday. Demonstrators are expected to use horns, vuvuzelas and the like to draw attention to the damage airguns can inflict on marine life and sensitive habitats.

An environmental impact statement released last year by the U.S. Department of the Interior estimated 138,500 whales and dolphins could be injured, deafened or possibly killed by the blasts over an eight-year period. “It’s loud, booming, and it disrupts their activity,” said Eileen Levandoski, assistant director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club. “They depend on hearing to find their food. They can’t communicate with each other and they get lost. When you have a compromised animal with a bacteria or virus, they’re already weakened. You’re adding insult to injury.”

Swingle said seismic airguns have been used in other parts of the world, and “what those impacts may or may not be is open for question.” “Certainly anything that’s dangerous for marine mammals would be concerning,” he added.

President Barack Obama announced in March he was reversing a ban he’d placed on oil lease sales off most of the country’s coasts after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon drill rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and spilling nearly 5 million barrels of oil. Obama’s reversal re-opened the door to potential oil and natural gas exploration and drilling along the Atlantic coast, the eastern portion of the Gulf and part of Alaska.

Oceana and the Sierra Club want the Administration to reject proposals that include airgun use, and phase them out of U.S. waters. But if seismic testing is to occur, it should be done using the least harmful technology, with defined “no activity zones” to protect vulnerable marine habitats and species.

To report a stranding
If you see a beached dolphin or other marine animal, call the Stranding Response Program hotline 24/7 at 757-385-7575. Vessel to study the oil spill’s effects – Sea Shepherd, Ocean Alliance partner to research whales in Gulf

Jul. 4, 2013 |

Written by Kevin Robinson

Ocean Alliance Founder Roger Payne and a group of environmental activists with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are making a port of call in Pensacola on board the RV Odyssey. The conservation group and the 93-foot research vessel is operating in the Gulf of Mexico collecting data on whales and sea-life in the gulf as it relates to the BP oil spill.

Watching the Whales: Listen to Eliza Muirhead, discuss how 12 members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Ocean Alliance’s mission, Operation Toxic Gulf, will spend the remainder of July tracking sperm whales 100 miles off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the Ocean Alliance have arrived in Pensacola with the 93-foot research vessel RV Odyssey. The group is making a port of call in Pensacola as part of its Operation Toxic Gulf mission in the Gulf of Mexico. / Tony Giberson/

An International crew of the scientists and activists will be docking in Pensacola periodically this month while they study the effects of the BP oil spill. About 12 members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Ocean Alliance will spend the remainder of July tracking sperm whales 100 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The sperm whale is at the top of the food chain, so all of the toxins consumed by smaller animals eventually end up accumulating inside the sperm whales,” crew member Eliza Muirhead said. The crew of the Odyssey will examine changes in sperm whale health and behavior to get a snapshot of how toxins from the Deep Water Horizon oil spill and the chemical dispersant sprayed to contain it are affecting marine ecology. To help people understand their research and its ramifications, the crew allowed the public to tour the Odyssey on Wednesday. About a dozen people wandered the 93-foot craft, snapping pictures and asking questions.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is a controversial environmental group featured on the popular Discovery Channel program “Whale Wars.” The group has gained notoriety for its aggressive tactics pursuing, harassing and sometimes boarding Japanese ships in the Southern Ocean conducting research by killing whales. Sea Shepherd contends the Japanese whaling operation is illegal and immoral. “My brother and nephew watch ‘Whales Wars,’ so when they told me they were coming down I decided to come along,” said Wendy Hauman. “I got to talk to the crew and the scientists. It’s cool to see what they do in person and see live some of what they do on TV.”

The team has a full laboratory on the ship to begin preliminary analysis of the data collected during the expedition. Lead researcher Robert Payne said it could be up to a year before the findings of the study are published.
Payne, the founder of Ocean Alliance, has studied whale behavior since 1967. He and colleague Scott McVay are credited for discovering that humpback whales sing songs.

Payne said that by partnering, Ocean Alliance and the Sea Shepherds are able to accomplish goals they could never have achieved alone. “The value of this study is that normally scientists work in their own little world,” Payne said. “People who take action work in a whole different world. Those two worlds are finally getting together.”
Payne said that by pairing the research-minded Ocean Alliance and the action-oriented members of the Sea Shepherds, the expedition could more fully investigate an environmental disaster that he said has been largely marginalized by special interests and the federal government.

“The mission of one side is to confuse things and our job is to clarify,” Payne said. “We’re dealing with a problem you can’t see, so it’s easy for people to pretend it doesn’t exist.” The research expedition will be documented online on the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Ocean Alliance Facebook pages.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

E&E: OFFSHORE DRILLING: Landmark settlement aims to protect Gulf whales and dolphins

Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E reporters
Published: Friday, June 21, 2013

Conservation groups, the Interior Department and oil and gas representatives yesterday reached a landmark settlement that will place restrictions on the use of seismic surveys to protect vulnerable populations of whales and dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.

The settlement focuses on the use of high-intensity air guns, which fire air into the water every 10 to 12 seconds for weeks and months at a time. The technology is critical to prospecting in the Gulf of Mexico for new places to drill.

Advocates including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Gulf Restoration Network allege that the blasts — which are sometimes as intense as dynamite — threaten bottlenose dolphins and sperm whales, both of which have experienced die-offs since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.

“Today’s agreement is a landmark for marine mammal protection in the Gulf,” said Michael Jasny of NRDC. “For years this problem has languished, even as the threat posed by the industry’s widespread, disruptive activity has become clearer and clearer.”

The environmental groups filed their lawsuit in 2010 in a Louisiana federal court. They claimed that the blasts disrupted the whales, dolphins and other ocean species that rely on sound to feed, mate and navigate, though industry groups strongly dispute that characterization.

The environmentalists claimed that Interior violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act when it permitted the use of air guns without preparing an environmental impact statement.

Several industry groups, however, pushed back on the lawsuit and NRDC’s claims. Moreover, Chip Gill, president of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, classified the settlement as a “huge victory” because his members were already implementing many of its terms.

The lawsuit, he said, contained “numerous outlandish and unsubstantiated allegations. The environmental groups can’t prove them, so they are settling.”

Gill said a worst-case scenario would have been for the court to throw out Interior’s 2004 National Environmental Policy Act review. If that happened, permits could have been revoked or a hold could have been placed on future permits. None of that is part of yesterday’s settlement, he said.

Sperm whales and bottlenose dolphins have experienced significant and unexplained die-offs in the Gulf of Mexico since the 2010 spill. Environmentalists have sought to point the finger at the spill, but government scientists are continuing to study the cause, and the air guns are seen as a confounding variable in solving the problem.

The settlement prohibits the use of air guns in biologically important areas, such as the DeSoto Canyon, which is particularly important to endangered sperm whales. The canyon is also critical to Bryde’s whales.

Under the agreement, industry also may not use air guns along coastal areas during the main calving season of bottlenose dolphins between March 1 and April 30, and the settlement requires a minimum separation distance between surveys.

Additionally, the settlement, which still must be approved by the court, requires the use of listening devices to make sure the air guns aren’t disrupting marine mammals.

“The settlement not only secures new protections for whales and dolphins harmed by deafening air guns but also establishes a process for investigating alternatives to air gun surveys,” said Ellen Medlin of the Sierra Club, referring to a mandated Bureau of Ocean Energy Management report on new standards and multiyear research project to be developed on an less harmful alternative.

“As a result,” Medlin said, “the settlement not only delivers immediate benefits for Gulf marine mammals, but also takes the first step towards a long-term solution.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter