Expand Offshore Drilling Or Focus On Renewables?

2018-01-16T16:47:29+00:00 July 24, 2017|
Air gun array on a research vessel, used for reflection seismic profiles in the ocean (Credit: Hannes Grobe, Wiki Commons)

(Click to enlarge) Air gun array on a research vessel, used for reflection seismic profiles in the ocean (Credit: Hannes Grobe, Wiki Commons)

At a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing, as lawmakers explored the potential for offshore drilling in Alaska and the Atlantic, seismic testing was once again a controversial topic.

Seismic tests are used to determine the presence and abundance of oil; registering at 120 decibels, Representative Jared Huffman (CA-2) said the blasts have “an enormous and obvious impact” on marine mammals. Witness Nikki Martin (President, International Association of Geophysical Contractors) disagreed, claiming that there is no scientific evidence showing harm to marine mammals (despite studies showing otherwise). The Marine Mammal Commission might be able to explore this issue further, but President Trump’s budget plan calls for the elimination of the advisory group (although the House’s Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2018 (H.R. 3267) would continue to fund the program). Representative Bruce Westerman (AR-4) felt the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act “had stretched beyond Congress’ original intent.” In contrast to that sentiment, a bipartisan group of over 100 members of Congress signed a letter last month asking the Trump administration to block seismic air gun surveying for oil and gas development in the Atlantic.

On the other side of Capitol Hill the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee explored the use of renewable energy in the Department of Defense at a hearing on Tuesday. Senator Joe Manchin (WV) expressed concern over the dependability of renewable energy sources, and Senator Bill Cassidy (LA) suggested expanding natural gas, a relatively lower-carbon fossil fuel. Retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Cheney (American Security Project) pointed out the tradeoffs of oil and gas, saying, “we must make sure that we take the greenhouse gas emissions from energy into account, lest we trade increased energy security today for a warmer, more unstable world in the future.”

With considerable talk of an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, Congress is looking further into their options. While GOP lawmakers have made their intentions for exploring Arctic drilling clear, it remains to be seen what will happen in the Atlantic. President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement could also prolong the transition to clean energy. At a time when climate change and renewables are at the center of attention, these topics are highly controversial.