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Opposition Mounts to Seismic Blasting off the Jersey Shore

Blasting starting in June could lead to fish being harmed, drilling off the Jersey Shore, opponents say

Capt. Jim Lovgren of the Fishermen's Dock Cooperative in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. (Photo: Daniel Nee)
Capt. Jim Lovgren of the Fishermen's Dock Cooperative in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. (Photo: Daniel Nee)
For 30 straight days this summer, air gun blasts estimated to be nearly double the volume of a jet engine will go off every five seconds in the ocean off Ocean County under a controversial research project aimed at mapping the effects of climate change.

The blasting could begin as early as June 3, but opposition is mounting by recreational and commercial fishing industry groups who say the blasts are likely to harm fish populations and environmentalists who are warning that the data from the study could be used by the oil industry to justify drilling off the New Jersey coast.

"We're concerned here," said Capt. Jim Lovgren of the Fishermen's Dock Cooperative in Point Pleasant Beach at a small rally against the blasting held there Friday morning. "That's not a dinner bell for fish. If you're in the water and you hear that sound, you flee. You don't know what it is, and it's hurting you."

The seismic blasts will provide researchers with a 3D image of the sea floor which will augment core samples taken in 2009. The project is being led by personnel from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in collaboration with the National Science Foundation, the University of Texas and Rutgers University.

The project will include air gun blasts 11,500 feet into the sea floor for a 30 day period between June 3 and Aug. 17 in a 230 square mile area off northern and central Ocean County. The resulting sound as the sea floor effectively caves in around the blast can be heard for miles and could disrupt fish and marine mammal populations. The researchers carrying out the project have been granted what is known as a "marine harassment permit" by the National Marine Fisheries Service which allows the potentially dangerous sound waves from the blasts to harm or even kill marine species, including endangered species such as the Atlantic sturgeon.

The fears of those who oppose the project, which will assess sediments from 60 million years ago in order to study long-term sea level changes, are twofold. Fishermen are worried that species could be driven from New Jersey's ocean bottom and environmentalists and some policymakers are worried that hydrocarbon data obtained through the studies will be used by energy companies to ignite a push for drilling off the Jersey Shore.

"We have a very viable shellfishery in the state of New Jersey," said Ray Bogan, attorney for the Recreational Fishing Alliance as well as the United Boatmen of New Jersey. "Very, very substantial and very, very important. To the extent that that could be impacted a scintilla is sinful."

Lovgren said evidence from Australia points to long-term damage to scalloping in the wake of seismic blasting. Scalloping is one of the most important fisheries for New Jersey commercial fishermen – especially those whose boats are ported in Point Pleasant Beach and Barnegat Light.

"Two months after seismic testing, one of the richest scallop beds off Australia was wiped out," said Lovgren. "There is more and more evidence mounting. Around the world, people are recognizing the dangers of seismic testing."

One of the policymakers most strongly against the blasting is Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6), who said he is continuing to push not only the National Marine Fisheries Service, but Rutgers University, to stop the project before it starts. Pallone's biggest fear is that the results of the study, which will be public after it is published, will encourage oil drilling off the Jersey Shore.

"We’ve been involved in trying to stop what I call pre-drilling activities, the things that lead to oil and gas drilling, for a long time," said Pallone. "Once you start down that path it’s like a domino effect."

While the study's proponents say researching climate change is their only goal, the grant award documentation from the National Science Foundation acknowledges that results of the research "may be of relevance for [the] hydrocarbon exploration industry."

According to Cindy Zipf, director of the environmental group Clean Ocean Action, the data produced by the study will include insights into gas deposits off the Jersey Shore, including methane hydrates and frozen natural gas, known as "fire ice."

Zipf's group has started a petition against the testing that has already garnered more than 14,000 signatures.

"It doesn’t matter what the motivation is," said Pallone. "If you start down this path, you are only contributing to helping the oil and gas industry make their point that there should be oil and gas drilling off the coast of New Jersey. Rutgers, our state university, should be environmentally responsible and say, ‘we’re not going to do this, we’re not going to be involved with this in any way,’ and I fault them for not doing that."

For Tom Fote, of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, there is a dual concern over the health of fisheries in the short-term during the blasting, as well as in the long-term if drilling were to occur off New Jersey.

"We’re suffering in this industry," Fote said. "Sandy cost over a hundred million dollars just in the recreational industry, not even counting the commercial industry. What is this blasting going to do?"
Depmar May 25, 2014 at 01:23 PM
Leave the NJ marine ecosystem undisturbed. I would suppose that this action "in the name of science" is somehow backed by big money who hope to capitalize on the findings. But then again, maybe I am being cynical. Either way, seismic waves have got to be detrimental to the living creatures in the ocean. Just say no to seismic testing. I'll be happy to support a petition and action that halts this intrusive testing.
Rock.n.Roll May 25, 2014 at 04:49 PM
It must be stopped, it will ruin the fishing season and who knows what else. Hey Dan, where is the money source on this project ? Interesting group partaking in the project.
Bowie Thelonius May 27, 2014 at 09:59 AM
This has to be stopped. What are these idiots thinking? They just want to destroy all sea life?????
want2say June 04, 2014 at 10:45 PM
So, are they still going to get away with doing that?
Andrew June 24, 2014 at 01:52 PM
Pretty sure I heard this going on recently. Distant booming about every 10 seconds and I could feel the slightest stir in the ground.

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