On April 22, 2016, U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez gathered for an Earth Day press conference with Montclair State University faculty, students and environmental advocates from across New Jersey in the University’s Center for Environmental and Life Sciences. The senators announced legislation to prohibit seismic offshore fossil fuel exploration in the Atlantic Ocean – a practice that could have potentially devastating impacts on the state’s coastal economy and threaten endangered species populations.
“New Jersey must stand united against any fossil fuel industry activities that would threaten our shoreline,” Senator Booker stated. “Although we were successful in preventing the near-term threat of offshore drilling in the Atlantic, there is still more work to be done. Seismic testing is not only harmful to our marine ecosystems, but it could deliver a crippling blow to New Jersey’s coastal economy. Instead of pursuing misguided energy policies like this, we should be focused on developing cleaner and more efficient energy sources.”
“Much like our fight on Atlantic drilling, the question of seismic testing is really one of values,” said Senator Menendez. “I value having clean coastal waters, which are home to diverse and rich ecosystems. I value the small businesses and fishermen who have built and sustained a thriving shore economy against all odds in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. And I value the commitment New Jerseyans have for a clean energy future. Seismic blasting to look for oil is incredibly disruptive to marine life. It can cause large-scale displacement of fish stocks, interfere with feeding and reproductive habits, and is a probable contributing factor to whale strandings. We have a responsibility to be good stewards of our environment, and allowing seismic testing in the Atlantic is an abdication of that responsibility.”
“Seismic exploration produces substantial acoustic disruptions which can negatively impact a host of organisms, specifically marine mammals who use sound for communication, navigation and feeding and in turn, any change in the food web can have lasting implications for the entire ecosystem,” said Paul Bologna, director of the University’s Marine Biology and Coastal Sciences Program.
The Atlantic Seismic Airgun Protection Act would prohibit oil, gas and methane hydrate-related seismic activities in the Atlantic Ocean. Studies have shown that noise from seismic airgun testing can significantly reduce catch rates of commercial fish species, and it is estimated that seismic airgun testing currently being proposed in the Atlantic could injure or kill tens of thousands of whales and dolphins.
The Earth Day announcement came on the heels of the passage of the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 in the U.S. Senate, which includes an amendment authored by Senator Booker and co-sponsored by Senator Menendez, which stripped out potential funding for seismic testing for methane hydrate in the Atlantic Ocean, including off the New Jersey coast. Methane hydrate, a form of natural gas, is estimated to have 25 times more global warming potential that carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.
Also speaking out in support of the Atlantic Seismic Airgun Protection Act were: Cindy Zipf, Executive Director of Clean Ocean Act; Sharon Franz, President of the New Jersey Tourism Industry Association; Debbie Mans, Baykeeper and Executive Director, NY/NJ Baykeeper; John Weber, Mid Atlantic Regional Manager, Surfrider Foundation; Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club; Jim Donofrio, Executive Director, Recreational Fishing Alliance; and Doug O’Malley, Director, Environment New Jersey.