BREAKING: US government bars new drilling leases in Atlantic

A North Atlantic right whale with an oil platform in the distance.In a small victory for whales who rely on the peaceful and unpolluted Atlantic Ocean waters as habitat and migratory routes, the Obama administration reversed course on a previous proposal to open the southeastern Atlantic coast to drilling.

However, that change in policy still allows for companies to conduct seismic airgun testing, and people who know the problems of ocean noise know how dangerous this is to the communication, feeding, mating and ultimately the survival of whale species in this area.

Shortly after the Obama administration announced the original proposal to offer drilling leases, we asked IFAW supporters to send letters to the Obama Administration pointing out that whale deafening seismic airgun use, as well as the risk of disastrous oil spills, would be catastrophic to the whale populations in those waters.

We collected more than 30,000 signatures and combined our efforts with leading non-profits to join forces to submit more than 400,000 comments opposing the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) plans.

More than 160 non-profit organizations, 60 members of Congress, 75 of the world’s leading marine scientists300 local elected officials, and 45 city councils spoke out.

While long criticized for the potential environmental  damage and economic concerns in coastal communities from Virginia to Georgia, the US Interior Department  also made the decision because of strong opposition from the Pentagon, which says any drilling activity could hurt military maneuvers and interfere with missile tests that the Navy relies on to protect the coast.

“Now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic coast,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said. “When you factor in conflicts with national defense, economic activities such as fishing and tourism, and opposition from many local communities, it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with any lease sales.”

Breeding and calving grounds for the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale are located solidly within the Atlantic leasing area. With so few individuals left, the loss of even one Right whale could have a severe impact on the overall population.

This five-year plan to set new boundaries for oil development in federal waters through 2022 certainly builds upon President Obama’s environment legacy rather than impedes it.

We greatly appreciate the change in direction on this extremely crucial issue for the survival of critically endangered whales. But we will continue to speak out to bar seismic airgun use in such habitats as well.

--BA

Visit www.sonicsea.org to learn more about the ocean noise issue, check out the screening schedule and take action to help stop ocean noise.

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