An Occasional Ramble by the Sea
March 24, 2005
By David Helvarg
From ANWR to SEACOR
The one-vote (51-49) passage of a Senate spending bill amendment to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge may be the greatest Congressional achievement since the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (consult your Vietnam history books). Ten years from now when Denmark aims to have achieved 50 percent non-carbon energy production, the U.S. will begin to drill for oil in the melting tundra of an increasingly soggy refuge. I hope those displaced hungry polar bears find their way to Capitol Hill. Meanwhile the European Union’s competitive advantage in developing new carbon-free energy technologies will have become insurmountable.
But of course drilling the refuge is about more than getting to that particular patch of oil. If you can “open up” America’s last great terrestrial wilderness you’ve created a rationale for drilling almost anywhere else. That’s just what Republican Dick Pombo, Chair of the House Resources Committee (formerly the Natural Resources Committee) hopes to see. He’s got a bill called SEACOR – the State Enhanced Authority for Coastal and Offshore Resources – that would get rid of the quarter century old Congressional moratorium on offshore drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts (and small parts of the Gulf of Mexico). In its place coastal states would be given financial incentives to support drilling for natural gas off their shores. Of course natural gas drilling and oil drilling are part of the same production process, the only difference being that energy companies have traditionally extracted the oil first because it’s more profitable.
The Virginia legislature has already passed a state bill calling for new offshore drilling in their waters. Too bad oil slicks don’t respect state boundaries. Of course if Congress wants to make offshore oil the next battleground for ocean conservation they’re welcome to try. When the Reagan administration tried to open up a billion acres of offshore waters to oil drilling in the 1980s they set off a huge wave of public opposition that in the end led to the creation of three major new marine sanctuaries where oil-drilling is permanently banned.
DEAD WHALES FOR DEMOCRACY?
The Bush administration is at odds with its European allies again. This time it’s over use of Active military Sonar that (scientific evidence is making increasingly clear) kills whales, dolphins and other marine mammals. The most recent incidents occurred this year off North Carolina and Florida leading to multiple strandings and dozens of deaths of whales and rough-tooth dolphins. The Navy also confirmed that one of its ship’s sonar was the likely cause of panicky flight among Orcas (Killer Whales) in Washington’s Puget Sound last year. Similar incidents have been reported and studied (including necropsies of dead whales) off the Bahamas, Hawaii, the Canary Islands and Greece.
While the European Union’s Parliament has urged its member nation’s to cut back on active sonar and develop agreements to reduce ocean noise in general (from oil & gas survey ships, commercial shipping, etc), the administration has put out a statement in defense of naval noise. “The U.S. strongly opposes any international regulatory framework addressing military use of active sonar,” it states in part. Of course our own regulatory approach has been less than inspiring. At one point the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a finding permitting the Navy to kill up to 12 percent of all marine mammals as long as it was incidental to their use of active sonar (and, I presume, they didn’t sell the dead whales for Sushi).
“We’re not going to compromise national security because people think we’re harming whales. It’s just not going to happen,” claims Oceanographer of the Navy Rear Admiral Steven Tomaszeski.
Of course the admiral must know that there are also passive listening systems and multi-band remote sensing platforms in advanced stages of development (and use) that could also meet any potential Anti-Submarine Warfare requirement of the military without blasting the life out of the oceans, if not blasting the life out of our oceans were also seen as benefiting our national security.
If sound is the light of the oceans this could prove the difference between looking into a dark room using night-vision goggles to see if there’s a bad guy lurking inside and blasting the room with a shotgun to see if anyone screams.
Luckily one of the loudest voices now on the side of the whales and dolphins is the Seaflow group out of my old town of Sausalito, California, and the Ocean Noise Coalition they’ve helped form.
SOME GOOD NEWS FOR FISH…
Rahall those nets boys. – OK I meant rehaul. Not every pun works. Still Rep. Nick Rahall (democrat of West Virginia) has reintroduced his fisheries reform bill that would require federal fisheries councils to follow the best science advice in setting catch limits instead of the usual conflict-of-interest ridden feeding frenzy where the fishing industry gets to set its own quotas. Even a lot of fishermen I’ve talked to are fed up with that system.
Along with fellow democrat Sam Farr of California, Rahall’s added some republican cosponsors (it helps to have the majority party on your side) and revised the bill to be more in line with the recommendations of the US Commission on Ocean Policy that came out last year. The Marine Fish Conservation Network is working hard to promote the bill on the hill and generate interest and support in congressional districts around the country.
…AND FOR SEAWEED ACTIVISTS
Planning for the Mid-Atlantic Blue Vision Conference at the Baltimore Aquarium April 8 is also going well. Along with opportunities to update each other, link local needs with national policies, and train to be a more effective blue constituency, all attendees will get a free ‘Seaweed Rebel’ T-shirt hot off the soy-ink press. For those of you who can’t be there (‘cause you don’t live between NY and North Carolina), we will soon be giving t-shirts away on line – for a contribution of $50 or more. Hey, listen, we’ve tried giving the shirts off our backs, but it just makes us cold.