By Chris Adams
What happens when one industry steps into another’s space? Off the coast of the United States, the oil and fishing industries might be headed for a conflict as new areas possibly become open for oil exploration.
In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Gib Brogan of Oceana detailed which areas of the U.S. coastline might be open to oil exploration and how that might conflict with the fisheries industry.
Mentioning the Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010 that polluted the Gulf of Mexico with oil and devastated both animal and plant life, Brogan said, “We don’t want to repeat that.”
But there’s been a major shift. Under President Barack Obama, areas were removed from consideration for oil exploration. Under President Donald Trump, the federal government would permit drilling in most U.S. continental-shelf waters, including those in the Arctic and the Atlantic. Of the 26 planning areas in the Pacific Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, only one would be off-limits to oil and gas exploration.
“Just like that, with the stroke of a pen, we were back in the fight,” he said.
Brogan detailed the potential impact of oil exploration techniques on fish life. One of those is seismic testing, during which seismic air guns shoot loud blasts of compressed air through the ocean to the sea floor. Sound waves then travel back to the surface with information about the possible location of subsea oil and gas deposits, he said.
That testing – which can be repeated every 10-12 seconds for days, weeks or months at a time – can be deadly for fish and can have an impact on fishes’ escape responses and schooling patterns.
Brogan detailed how fishing industry groups, as well as fisheries management councils in the U.S., are joining efforts to push back on the offshore expansion.