Threat to wildlife in focus as offshore drilling comments continue

oil-spill-headerFrom spills soaking sea birds in oil, to seismic exploration putting whales and dolphins at risk, each stage of offshore drilling threatens precious Atlantic marine life, says an analysis from Environment Virginia.

The new document detailing the threats drilling poses to sea animals comes as federal officials hold informational meetings and take comments from the public about their proposal to allow oil and gas rigs off Virginia’s coast and the rest of the southern Atlantic.

“Drilling is tragic for marine life,” said Sarah Bucci, campaign director with Environment Virginia. “That’s true from the very beginning stages of oil exploration, to routine drilling and spilling, to a catastrophe the scale of the BP disaster.”

The exploration for oil and gas may threaten wildlife more than any other drilling activity. As many as 138,000 Atlantic whales and dolphins are projected to be injured or killed by the use of seismic airguns, which create bursts of sound as loud as a jet engine audible for thousands of miles.

While the BP disaster killed tens of thousands of sea turtles, dolphins, and whales, and untold numbers of fish and shellfish, Environment Virginia researchers also note the routine risks oil and gas rigs pose to marine life. One example: roughly 200,000 migratory birds, lured by light and the prospect of food, are burned, poisoned by oil or otherwise killed each year near drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

In January the Obama administration proposed opening up land off Virginia’s coast, and a huge swath of the southern Atlantic Coast, through Georgia, to offshore drilling. Since then, federal officials have been holding informational meetings in coastal cities about their plan, in many cases drawing strong opposition.

Hundreds of Virginians turned out to meetings in Washington, DC and Norfolk to express their concerns for Virginia’s coastal economy and ecology. And, on Monday, for example, roughly 670 people packed a meeting on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, shattering previous attendance records for Bureau of Ocean & Energy Management (BOEM) proceedings. The attendees were nearly all opposed to drilling, and were recruited by Environment Virginia’s North Carolina affiliate, Surfrider, Oceana, and others.

Meetings are scheduled to continue along the Atlantic coast and BOEM will collect comments from the public on their proposed plan through March 30.

“We saw how devastating the BP catastrophe was for sea animals,” said Bucci. “We need the Obama administration to say no to more drilling, and say yes to our treasured coastal communities, dolphins and whales.”

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