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Back You are here: Home News Local and State News Local Kure Beach Council Hears Citizen Input On Seismic Air-gun Testing

Kure Beach Council Hears Citizen Input On Seismic Air-gun Testing

Around 300 people gathered at Kure Beach Town Hall on January 27th, to voice their opposition to Mayor Dean Lambeth signing a letter supporting seismic airgun testing for off shore oil exploration in December 2013. Crowds were angry they had no chance to voice concerns on the issue prior to the Mayor signing the letter.

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

Photos, audio video and copies of studies and additional information including a copy of the letter the Mayor signed are located at the end of this report

KURE BEACH - A crowd of approximately 300 people rallied at Kure Beach Town Hall on January 27th, to voice their opposition to Mayor Dean Lambeth signing a letter in December 2013 supporting seismic airgun testing for off shore oil and natural gas exploration.
The Mayor signed a letter written by America's Energy Forum - a group sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute - that describes its mission as, "a non-partisan community of concerned citizens committed to two goals – achieving energy security for our country, and holding our elected officials more accountable in shaping energy policies."
The letter sent last month was addressed to Tommy Beaudreau of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in Washington D.C. The letter stated, "The downturn in the economy negatively impacted the economic situation in our region, and we are still in recovery. As coastal elected officials we are also addressing other serious issues such as flood insurance, beach re-nourishment and diversifying our economies so we can grow vibrant, economically healthy communities. One potential opportunity to create jobs and revenue for our communities is offshore oil and natural gas exploration."
The letter stated, "Studies show that development of offshore resources could create a significant number of well paying jobs for our communities as well as generate revenue for critical infrastructure projects. However, the seismic data, which could determine the offshore potential, is more than 30 years old and needs to be updated so that everyone involved can make sound business and policy decisions. Therefore, we are writing to urge you to move the process forward to approve permits for seismic studies so that we can begin the long overdue process of improving our energy and economic security."
The letter stated, "Furthermore, we understand that companies are prohibited from conducting any exploration and production activities in the Atlantic because the Atlantic Offshore Continental Shelf is not in the government's current "Five-Year Program for 2012 to 2017." Its exclusion further stymies jobs and revenue growth opportunities for our communities. Thus, we are also asking you to allow Atlantic OCS leasing before 2017. We are all strong and vocal supporters of protecting our environment and will work with all parties involved to ensure that both our shoreline and marine life are protected during the seismic testing process."
The letter explained, "However, many experts and studies have shown that this testing can be conducted in an environmentally safe manner. Seismic analyses are highly regulated and carefully managed by the operator to avoid impacting marine mammals, with on-board personnel who specialize in wildlife protection. Furthermore, allowing the long-awaited testing to go forward, coupled with an inclusion of the Atlantic in the next five-year program, will provide us with the needed information to better assess the potential revenue and jobs impact that offshore exploration will bring to our respective states and communities."
The letter stated, "We appreciate your consideration and once again ask BOEM to expeditiously approve seismic studies and allow leasing in the Atlantic OCS before 2017. We must begin generating jobs and revenue opportunities to rejuvenate the economies under our jurisdictions."
The letter was signed by Lambeth as Mayor of Kure Beach with the additional line, "I am pleased to add my name to the above letter."
According to Oceana.org, "Seismic airguns are used to find oil and gas deep underneath the ocean floor. Airguns are so loud that they disturb, injure or kill marine life, harm commercial fisheries, and disrupt coastal economies. These dynamite-like blasts—which are repeated every ten seconds, 24 hours a day, for days and weeks at a time—are 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine. Seismic airgun testing currently being proposed in the Atlantic will injure 138,500 whales and dolphins and disturb millions more, according to government estimates."
The sound waves that return to the vessel towing monitoring equipment are used to determine if oil or natural gas are located beneath the ocean floor.
On January 7th, Jacqueline Savitz - Vice President, U.S. Oceans for the Washington D.C. group Oceana - sent a letter to Mayor Lambeth. Oceana opposes seismic testing and off shore drilling for oil and natural gas.
Savitz wrote, "We are writing to strongly encourage you to revisit your position on seismic airgun testing. While we think you make some valid points in your letter sent to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on December 19, 2013, the overriding impacts of seismic testing, and the resulting oil development, are not likely to be positive for Kure Beach. Therefore, we would like an opportunity to meet with you to discuss this in more detail. While your point may be true that “many experts and studies have shown that this testing can be conducted in an environmentally safe manner,” it is unlikely the Department of the Interior (DOI) will require that it be done in such a manner. These environmentally safe methods might include the use of less damaging technology, protecting areas known to be used by marine mammals, and other measures that DOI is not going to require."
Savitz explained, "Seismic airguns shoot dynamite-like blasts that can travel across entire ocean basins, harming and disturbing a variety of ocean life, including whales, dolphins, sea turtles and fish that our local economies depend on. According to the government’s own estimates, 138,500 whales and dolphins would be injured or possibly killed by such seismic blasts, and they could cause more than 13.5 million disturbances to their vital behaviors. In addition to the impacts on marine mammals, airguns are loud enough to kill fish eggs and larvae as well as scare fish away from important fishing grounds and decrease catch rates. Due to these threats, many fishing interests oppose seismic airgun use, including the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, which has formally opposed and spoken out against the use of seismic airguns in the Atlantic. Oceana and numerous other organizations have also opposed the use of seismic airguns along the East Coast because of the harm it presents to the local economy, environment and marine life."
Savitz explained, "North Carolina is home to an abundance and diversity of marine life that deserves protection, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, with about only 500 individuals remaining worldwide. Disruptions to right whale calving areas would not be avoided by the current “environmentally safe manner” of small closure areas or on-board observers, due to the widespread acoustic footprint of seismic airguns. The acoustic impacts of seismic airguns extend hundreds of miles from the ship, much further than an observer can see. Observers also can’t provide protection for non-surfacing species like fish. In a worst case scenario, seismic airgun testing could result in beached dolphins or even dead marine mammals on Kure Beach. Oceana does not believe the federal government is providing this species, or others, with adequate protections against seismic airguns. If you feel strongly about the need to do this in an environmentally safe manner, we can provide some suggestions and you could urge BOEM to consider them. But without strong encouragement, they are not heading in that direction."
Savitz wrote, "In your letter to BOEM you also mentioned that offshore oil and gas exploration is a potential opportunity to create jobs and revenue. We have looked at this issue and do not see seismic testing resulting in any new long-term jobs or revenue for your local community or the state of North Carolina. Even the consequent drilling is not likely to be a major revenue source as revenue sharing is not guaranteed. Yet the impacts of offshore drilling and seismic airgun testing will clearly accrue to the region. In fact, seismic testing and offshore drilling would severely threaten marine life and coastal economies. The use of seismic airguns and offshore drilling would jeopardize the state’s ocean-based jobs, including 30,000 in tourism and recreation, 17,000 in recreational fishing and more than 8,000 in commercial fishing."
Savitz explained, "Seismic airgun testing is the first step to offshore drilling, which we know can result in oil spills and deadly accidents. The fatality rate for oil and gas extraction workers is seven times higher than that for all other U.S. workers. And another accident like the Deepwater Horizon would be a major job-killer, not to mention a disaster, for North Carolina’s coastal businesses and natural assets."
She explained, "To help set the record straight, this past September Oceana hosted a public forum at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher in Kure Beach, with panelists representing North Carolina Coastal Federation, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Marine Biology Department, and a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives, to educate local citizens about the risks associated with the use of seismic airguns. We understand your interest in doing what is best for Kure Beach, and we would like to take time to meet with you to present the other side of this issue, including the impacts to the local economy and marine life from seismic testing and offshore drilling. Would you please consider setting up a meeting with our Southeast Representative, Randy Sturgill and a few of our local members? I would be happy to discuss this further with you as well. Randy can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or I can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. "
On Monday January 6th, Lambeth explained, "If we don't get money in here to help fund beach nourishment it will have to come from increased property taxes for citizens and then everyone will be screaming."
He said North Carolina needs to support energy exploration and, "If North Carolina doesn't, then Virginia will do it and drill sideways for it."
Lambeth said, "It will bring monies into the coastal economies and the hope would be that some of those revenues would generate taxes to help fund beach nourishment projects." He said the last nourishment project totaled around $4 million dollars and funding was an obstacle. He said, "We will need a million dollars in the bank the next time to cover our local share of the project."
Local, state and federal leaders continue to focus on funding future beach nourishment projects. Even though leaders have to lobby Washington every couple of years for funding, it is becoming increasing hard to secure federal funding. Currently 65 percent is paid by the federal government with the remaining 35 percent funded by state and local governments.
In New Hanover County, a portion of the room occupancy tax on hotel, motel and short-term vacation rentals goes towards funding nourishment projects. In light of the issues involved in securing continued federal funding, New Hanover County adopted a contingency plan that would allow continued nourishment of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach using non-federal funds.
Under an interlocal agreement between the County and the three beach towns, if funding is not provided by the Federal Government in the future, all three beach towns agreed to provide 17.5% of the funds needed for periodic nourishment of their beaches. The remaining balance of 82.5% would be covered by New Hanover County and possibly the State of North Carolina. In the absence of state funding, the entire 82.5% balance would be assumed by the County. The County would use Room Occupancy Tax revenues realized from a tax on hotels, motels and short-term vacation rentals.
According to Town Clerk Nancy Avery, the Council voted  in December on waiting to get more citizen input before signing the letter. Commissioners Emilie Swearingen and David Heglar voted in favor of that motion while Mayor Lambeth, Mayor Pro Tem Bloszinsky and Commissioner Pagley voted against that motion. She said following the meeting the interpretation was to send the letter.
Agendas for Kure Beach Town Council meetings have traditionally included a section for "Persons to address Council" near the beginning of the meeting. The structure of the agenda for the January 27th, meeting was changed by moving that item to the end of the meeting while earlier in the meeting two people presented information favoring and opposing seismic testing.
Council member Emilie Swearingen tried to convince the Council to move the time for the public to address the Council to earlier in the meeting but that failed by a vote of three to two.
Someone yelled to the crowds outside that they would have to wait until the end of the meeting and the crowd roared with dissatisfaction.
Mayor Dean Lambeth said, "You're all gonna be ask to leave if you don't be quiet."
Wilmington resident Brady Bradshaw, Campaign Coordinator for Echo Friendly Action spoke to the Council about the harm that seismic airgun testing has on marine life. Echo Friendly Action! (EFA!) is a team of ocean defenders committed to bringing about a permanent end to seismic testing worldwide.
Bradshaw said the waters off North Carolina are a hot spot for marine mammal bio diversity and is home to the North Atlantic right whale which is one of the rarest species on the earth. He said the area is also critical habitat for shore birds and sea turtles.
Bradshaw said seismic testing is currently outlawed on the east coast. He said, "The reason we are gathered at this time is because in February the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will issue their final environmental impact study and make a recommendation for approval or denial of seismic testing."
He said, "Sound travels four times as fast underwater" and, "Marine animals use sound as their main sense and for many uses" and can cause decreases in fish catch rates.
He said, "In Australia in 2010, 24,000 tons of scallops died during seismic testing and in 2012 and 2013 scientific studies confirmed impacts of seismic testing" resulted in more scallop deaths.
He said a direct impact on one species has an impact on other species and a government study has shown that 138,500 injuries or deaths could occur to whales and dolphins including nine critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. This also included a figure of 13.5 million disruptions to vital functions" including fish feeding and having to move out of the way of the testing.
Bradshaw said off the coast of Peru in 2012 volunteers counted 2,800 dead dolphins on shore and a veterinarian examined 20 of them that showed middle ear hemorrhages and fractures of the ear bone. He said those are direct impacts that could be associated with seismic testing.
He said, "When an animal is spooked such as a dolphin, it can be caused to ascend quickly" in the water causing their lungs to explode.
Bradshaw said testing can also harm fisheries that commercial fishing operations rely upon for an 11.8 billion dollar industry in the mid and south Atlantic east coast supporting 222,000 jobs. He said, "The Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council has come out in opposition to seismic testing on the basis that there are too many ecological and economical risks associated and too much uncertainty."
Bradshaw said Marine Mammal Observers onboard of the testing vessels are, "Someone onboard the ship with a pair of binoculars looking out over the side to spot marine mammals surfacing."
Bradshaw said according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, "Accounting for both submerged animals and animals that are otherwise missed by the observers in excellent survey conditions, only 23% of Cuvier’s beaked whales and 45% of Mesoplodon beaked whales are estimated to be seen on ship surveys if they are located directly on the survey trackline."
Seismic airgun testing results in sound levels of 190 decibels (dB) in air which is amplified to 250 dB in water.
A jet engine is commonly 140dB and motorcycle, 100dB. The average human voice is around 60dB. A nominal figure for the threshold of pain for human hearing is 130 decibels.
Albert Eckel, representing the American Petroleum Institute, said they asked the Mayor to sign the letter supporting seismic testing. He said, "Seismic testing are a essential component of off shore and natural gas exploration. I should also note they are used to site locations for offshore wind farms. Seismic data is used by both industry and federal agencies to make informed economic and regulatory decisions regarding potential accumulations of oil and natural gas. Seismic surveys are a critical step needed to realize offshore resource development that congress mandated and through four decades of experience around the globe they have demonstrated to have no detectable long-term impact on the marine environment. The current regulations are robust and have proven more than adequate to successfully prevent adverse impacts on marine mammal populations."
Eckel said science and studies have shown impacts on marine mammals are incidental and the seismic surveys are safe.
He said, "Contrary to the baseless claims of some, there is no evidence that serious injury, death or stranding of marine mammals have occurred from exposure to seismic surveys. Even in the case of large airgun arrays."
He said people claiming harm to marine life are misrepresenting the government studies they quote and said safety precautions are taken to prevent harm to marine mammals such as gradually increasing sounds to alert marine life prior to operating.
He said long recognized risks to whales and dolphins are vessel strikes and fishing gear entanglement. He said, "That's a fact, not fiction" and, "The campaign against airgun use by environmental groups is unfounded and only meant to stop future offshore oil and gas exploration," and drilling.
Eckel said, "We have a real problem along the east coast for beach nourishment. We have a real problem along the east coast also for insurance as well. Seismic testing is just one step towards beginning to evaluate our resource potential within the Atlantic."
He said, "The claims made by some are just purely unfounded and just total hyperbole and fiction to try to scare you. We respect your opinions but unfortunately you are just flat wrong."
Local resident Judy Larrick asked Eckel, "My question is sir, are you willing to take your family and yourself and go diving while they're conducting" seismic testing.
The crowd applauded.
Eckel said, "This has been done for quite a few years and you are just wrong."
Council member Swearingen asked whether or not seismic testing would lead to helping fund beach nourishment for local Towns.
Eckel said, "I never claimed seismic test actually gives money. Seismic testing is a process towards off shore exploration. Off shore exploration has the ability to provide royalties which then can flow through for beach renourishment."
Swearingen asked, "What kind of royalties are the states and the Towns on the east coast now legally allowed by the federal government to receive."
Eckel said, "You cannot receive any which is why you need to have your voice heard to actually receive funds from this process." He said, "So unless you are prepared to raise taxes this is something that you probably have a fiduciary duty to educate yourself on."
Swearingen touched on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and asked, "Could you tell me how many fishermen as a result of that spill lost their businesses?
Eckel said, "I'm not here to talk about the BP oil spill."
Swearingen said the issue is potentially drilling for oil and natural gas off shore and the potential for harming the environment the local economies depend upon.
Swearingen asked, "Is it illegal to do seismic testing off the coast of California?"
Eckel said, "Yes."
The crowd roared with applause. In fact, throughout the night crowds surrounded the building applauding and at times booing and banging on windows and doors. Many waited outside the meeting room due to standing-room-only and held up protest signs to the windows of the room.
Several residents asked the Mayor to rescind his endorsement because he failed to seek public input and his position doesn't represent the majority opinions of those he was elected to serve.
After running through a long list of people who signed up to address council, Councilman David Heglar said the Mayor sent the letter on his own without using the Town's Letterhead. He said it was a form letter and Lambeth signed it as Mayor with the additional statement, "I am pleased to add my name to the above letter."
Heglar said, "I told Council this wasn't an issue we should really be getting into. I still believe that. I think that as a small beach town - a small town in general - this is a federal, state issue that really as a town we shouldn't get into."
He said, "The Mayor has taken a stance... that's his right as an individual. The only reason he came to Council was because about three years ago he took a stance and the Council at that time said look Mayor if you are going to send out letters even in your name using your title you should let Council know about that."
He said, "The Mayor, just like each of us, is allowed to have an opinion."

Related information, sources, articles and audio:

Below is a statement from Oceana campaign organizer and local North Carolina resident Randy Sturgill:

“Today, Kure Beach residents will finally get a chance to voice their concerns about using seismic airguns off our beaches. The Mayor should have consulted more with his constituents and less with the American Petroleum Institute and its partners. Seismic testing and offshore oil production will destroy the fabric of Kure Beach and other coastal towns, and only Big Oil will benefit.

These are the same people that told us offshore drilling was safe before the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, and now they’re telling us that seismic airguns will not impact marine life and coastal economies. But the government’s own estimates, not Oceana’s, show that such testing will injure and possibly kill as many as 138,500 dolphins, whales and other marine mammals.

Seismic airguns emit one of the loudest man-made sounds in the oceans. To this day, we’re still learning about their true impact, including how far their sound travels and how they impact marine animals, especially when they occur repeatedly for weeks on end. These blasts will go on and on even when marine mammals are present because only limited visual monitoring is required. However, just because you can’t see a dolphin or whale doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

We would never allow such harmful testing to occur on land in our backyards or near endangered species, so why would we allow it in the water? The waters off the coast of North Carolina are home to a wide diversity of wildlife that deserves protection, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, the most endangered whale in the ocean. For right whales, the impacts of repeated seismic airgun blasts would be like driving the remaining American bison out of Yellowstone National Park with military artillery.

We have seen the impact that the search for offshore oil and gas has had off the coasts of Namibia, Australia and Madagascar, causing declines in tuna catch, decreasing productivity for the scallop fishery and scaring melon-headed whales into a shallow lagoon where they later died.

Seismic airguns are loud enough to kill fish eggs and larvae and to scare fish away from important fishing grounds. In fact, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council called on President Obama to prohibit the use of seismic airguns in the Atlantic last year.

Mayor Lambeth and the oil and gas industry cannot guarantee us that the people of Kure Beach will benefit from seismic airgun testing or future offshore drilling. That’s because the risks are so great to our fisheries and tourism economy that most likely, we won’t benefit. Only Big Oil will benefit, which explains their effort to coax local mayors into engaging on their behalf. If we like our coastal fisheries and tourism economies, seismic airguns and drilling off North Carolina must be stopped.”

In September, Oceana delivered more than 100,000 petitions opposing seismic airguns to Tommy Beaudreau, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Fifty members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have also called on President Obama to stop the use of seismic airguns.

For more information about Oceana’s efforts to stop seismic airguns, including an infographic and animation about how they work, please visit www.oceana.org/seismic


INSTITUTE INDEX: Big Oil's push for seismic testing meets resistance

The following are statistics and information regarding the issue and the January 27th, meeting from the Institute for Southern Studies at http://www.southernstudies.org

Number of people who packed a town council meeting this week in Kure Beach, N.C. to protest the mayor's decision to sign a letter drafted by an oil and gas industry lobby group in support of seismic air gun testing off the Atlantic Coast, the first step toward opening the area to offshore drilling: 100s

Hours the protesters spent standing in the meeting room and parking lot, waiting for a chance to speak out on the practice, which involves shooting loud blasts of compressed air from ships to the seabed to find oil and gas deposits: 2

Hours the council spent listening to more than 50 public commenters, most of them opposed to seismic testing, as fellow protesters pounded on the walls and cheered: 2

Number of public comments the Obama administration received on the proposal to allow seismic testing off the Atlantic Coast: more than 55,000

Date by which the U.S. Interior Department is scheduled to release an environmental impact study looking at what seismic testing in the Atlantic would do to whales, dolphins and other marine life: 2/28/2014

Number of times more intense the seismic air gun blasts are than the roar of a jet engine: 100,000

Number of marine mammals the U.S. government estimates would be injured by seismic testing, including critically endangered North Atlantic right whales: 138,500

Percent drop in fish catches that fisherfolk in the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago reported following 56 documented seismic tests in their coastal waters: 50 to 70

Sales impact of North Carolina's recreational fishing industry alone in 2011: $2 billion

Of its commercial seafood industry: almost $800 million

Estimated annual income that would be generated by drilling for oil and gas off North Carolina's coast once the industry is fully up and running: $1.9 billion

Date on which the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing on seismic testing in the Atlantic: 1/10/2014

Number of marine scientists who testified at the hearing, which the environmental advocacy group Oceana blasted as a "dog and pony show": 0

Days earlier that Democratic members of the subcommittee wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Kathryn Sullivan, acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, asking for improved offshore drilling safety requirements before considering expansion of drilling into new areas: 2

Number of petitions against seismic testing in the Atlantic that Oceana collected last year and delivered to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management: more than 100,000

(Click on figure to go to source.)


Related Editorials:

Editorial: Kure Beach Learns Lesson On Seismic Testing Issue

Video of some of the many citizens that addressed council at the January 27th, meeting:

Video of a vessel using seismic airgun testing. Includes underwater video of the airguns in operations.

Underwater video of the airguns in operations.

Explanation of Seismic Testing and how it works.

Audio of the January 27th Kure Beach Town Council meeting regarding seismic testing:

 

The Kure Beach Town Council: From left to right: Commissioner Emilie Swearingen, Mayor Pro Tem Craig Bloszinsky, Mayor Dean Lambeth, Commissioner David Heglar, Commissioner Steve Pagley.

Mayor Pro Tem Craig Bloszinsky, Mayor Dean Lambeth, Commissioner David Heglar.

Mayor Pro Tem Craig Bloszinsky, Mayor Dean Lambeth, Commissioner David Heglar.

Albert Eckel, (At the podium) representing the American Petroleum Institute, during the meeting.

Albert Eckel, (At the podium) representing the American Petroleum Institute, during the meeting.

Local resident Mo Linquist speaking against Seismic Testing.

Local resident Mo Linquist speaking against Seismic Testing.

Local resident Judy Larrick being interviewed by local television station. She opposes seismic airgun testing.