With all eyes glued on the atrocities in Gaza and Ukraine, another homegrown atrocity may soon be underway. The Obama administration has quietly executed one of those sneaky summer weekend news dumps in hopes of nobody noticing or caring. Because what, after all, are pods of insane dolphins, and hordes of dead turtles, and the extinction of an entire whale species compared to hundreds of battered human bodies?
From Think Progress:
On Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved the use of seismic airguns to explore the seabed from Cape May to Cape Canaveral for oil and gas.
These sonic cannons are compressed airguns that get towed behind ships, using dynamite-like blasts to produce sound waves 100,000 times louder than a jet engine underwater every ten seconds. The waves travel through the water and through the ocean floor, bouncing back up at different rates to provide prospective drillers and researchers a better sense of where oil, gas, minerals, and sand lie beneath the waves.
It’s not a surprise that this is dangerous: even BOEM estimates that this practice will disrupt, injure, or kill millions of marine animals, including the most endangered whale species on the planet. It is less surprising that this risky tactic would be approved in large part to ferret out another source of fossil fuels, risking another BP disaster and emitting more pollution that causes global warming. It’s more surprising that this gambit is being entertained in an area that may not even have that much oil or gas.
So why is the Obama administration entertaining it? Because he already ticked off “climate change” on his legacy to-do list by trumpeting proposals to reduce carbon emissions at some vague time in the future. Because compromised politicians want the waters off their sacrosanct borders opened up for the extraction of every last single drop of oil and gas, regardless of the cost. Because the president wants to start handing out drilling leases before he leaves office in 2017. Because there is lots and lots and lots of money to be made for a select few pockets.
As Herman Melville saliently observed in Moby-Dick, “The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvelous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!”
Perhaps the urbane crowd is hoping that all the audio-executed marine life washing up on our beaches can be recycled into cheap fertilizer, or even cat food for the poor. Notice that the watering holes of the rich and famous — the Hamptons, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard (where the Obamas vacation) and Newport — have so far been granted immunity from having their vistas spoiled by the detritus of the torture ships. Only the waters from Virginia to Florida will be opened to deep-sea blast-mapping.
Still, since the intense sound waves generated by the exploratory rigs can travel for thousands of miles underwater, no pristine shoreline will be immune from the sights and smells of beached whales and rotting turtle carcasses. Maybe once rich people run out of Maine lobsters to feast upon, we’ll hear an uproar. By then, of course, it will be too late.
The insatiable oil company executives and the insatiable politicians who serve them will have laughed all the way to the bank.
Oil Change International activist Steve Kretzman told The Nation‘s Zoe Carpenter earlier this year,
As the supply of oil and gas goes up, the cost the market perceives for it is going down, thus encouraging more consumption—which is exactly the signal the climate demands that we do not send. If we had a perfect market for energy, working on the demand side alone might do it. But we’re not remotely close to that. Oil is controlled globally by a cartel, heavily subsidized by taxpayers around the world, and insulated from paying various substantial costs such as health, pollution clean-up, military support, and of course the social cost of carbon.
Importantly, stopping greater supply is the best way to stand in the way of Big Oil’s power. You give them access to more oil and gas, they’ll make more profits, and spend more money both looking for even more oil and gas as well as bribing politicians and throwing armies of lawyers at regulations. [Emphasis added]
These industries are based on, and profit from, finding more and more of something that science says we have more than enough of. Every additional field is a step in the wrong direction. It has to start stopping somewhere.
Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle reports that nine oil companies had been heavily lobbying the White House to get moving on the ocean audio assault, with Obama’s resulting acquiescence causing a “seismic rift” with activists:
Environmentalists accused the administration of caving to the oil industry by formalizing an approach that would impose modest limitations on the seismic research instead of mandating more rigorous safeguards or barring the activity altogether.
“For more than 30 years, the Atlantic coast has been off-limits to offshore drilling,” said Claire Douglass, campaign director for the conservationist group Oceana. “Our government appears to be folding to the pressure of Big Oil and its big money.”
Michael Jasny, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Marine Mammal Protection Project, called seismic exploration “a gateway drug to offshore drilling.”
But the oil industry didn’t get everything it wanted.
OK. This is the part where you should you brace yourself for Obama’s cynical “balanced approach.”
The fig leaf: Obama, lover of wildlife that he is, will insist that the torture ships include human monitors to scan the waters for breaching whales and other signs of life before they they proceed to destroy the life that they cannot see. If “thar she blows,” then the sound-harpoons must be held in abeyance.
And here’s the part where the oil cartel hilariously pretends to be very, very miffed at the government’s outrageous strong-arm “humanitarian” tactics:
The American Petroleum Institute, the National Ocean Industries Association and other groups were unable to persuade the Interior Department to scale back proposed time-outs to watch for animals before starting testing and requirements that companies shut down activities when dolphins and other animals are nearby.
The petroleum institute has called those restrictions “arbitrary and unnecessary,” asserting they were based on flawed projections about the number of animals that could be hurt.
“Operators already take great care to protect wildlife, and the best science and decades of experience prove that there is no danger to marine mammal populations,” API’s upstream director, Erik Milito, said Friday.”Restrictions that have no scientific basis can easily discourage exploration, private investment and job creation. Regulators should rely only on sound science when setting permit requirements.”
Other limitations formalized Friday include closing access to the migratory routes of the endangered North Atlantic right whale and prohibiting multiple seismic surveys from being conducted simultaneously.
This is the propaganda that lulls the public into thinking that a meaningless “balanced approach” which juggles the rights of polluters to profit and the rights of helpless animals to live is tantamount to ethical policy. It’s one more example of the lesser evilism philosophy purporting to justify the neoliberal deregulation of capitalism through measurement of allowable collateral damage. No more than one dead sea turtle per barrel of oil! No more than one demented dolphin pod per sea floor gas field! On paper, anyway. Artificial restrictions, like the medieval plenary indulgences that got rich sinners into heaven, shall grease what’s left of their rudimentary moral compasses.
The administration stopped short of requiring companies to use still-developing, quieter technologies for mapping what lies below the seabed.Walter Cruikshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the agency relied on public comments, scientific research and other evidence in developing the safeguards, first outlined in February.
“We are taking every step we think is reasonable to try and put those protections in place while still allowing surveys to occur,” Cruikshank told reporters on a conference call.
The Obama administration is nothing if not reasonable. The auditory comfort and mental health of marine life will not be allowed to interfere with progress. The fish larvae which may be killed in the blasts should have picked more responsible parents, I guess. If whales are discomposed by the noise, they should just evacuate the blast areas and find different lodgings…. that is, if the deafening roar hasn’t already interfered with their sense of direction.
As Claire Douglass of Oceana writes, Obama’s cave to big oil could also have the untoward effect of destroying three quarters of a million jobs in the fishing and tourism industries. And never mind the abuse of human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If underwater creatures had rights, the blast-mapping proposal would probably be deemed torture, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions:
According to the government’s own estimates, these dynamite-like blasts could injure and possibly kill up to 138,200 marine mammals, while disrupting the necessary activities of millions more. Impacts to marine mammals could include everything from temporary or permanent hearing loss, to the disruption of vital behaviors like communicating, feeding, mating, calving, migrating, and masking of biologically important sounds.
“Sound and light bombardment is used to disorient, cause anxiety, and even contribute to personality disintegration, as well as to deprive the person of sleep. It is often combined with other tactics,” reports the UN Committee against Torture. That body has also determined that “sounding of loud music for prolonged periods” constitutes torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment both when it is used in combination with other methods of interrogation and when it is used by itself.
Noise has been used by torturers to either mask sounds of others being tortured, such as when children’s music was played by the Gestapo when beating Walter Bauer, or when they are trying to disrupt sleep, terrorise or create emotions within the prisoners. In 2004, a U.S. military official admitted that ‘uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair with shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and screaming loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air conditioning was turned up to maximum levels.’ See, Neil A. Lewis, ‘Broad Use of Harsh Interrogation Techniques is Described at Cuba’, New York Times, October 17th 2004; and Darius Rejali, ‘Torture and Democracy’, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2007, p.360-366. Australian officials attributed the noise over the years to ‘construction and equipment noise’, after David submitted a complaint about not being able to sleep to Australian embassy officials. Letter to David Mcleod from Simeon Gelding, Assistant Secretary Consular Branch, 23rd March, 2006.
Meanwhile, Obama is threatened with lawsuits on grounds of making too many recess appointments and over-tinkering with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Impeachment on grounds of both human and animal cruelty, however, is not on the table.
“For there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.” – Herman Melville, Moby-Dick.