AVALON — U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, called a move by the Trump administration to conduct seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean “barbaric” and “insane” during a press conference Monday.
Seismic air guns are used to find gas and oil pockets deep beneath the ocean floor. President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order in April aimed at expanding offshore drilling near the East Coast, and, earlier this month, five companies applied to conduct seismic testing — including in an area just south of Cape May.
Environmentalists, local politicians and tourism officials gathered Monday afternoon near the 30th Street beach in Avalon to signal their opposition to seismic testing and offshore drilling.
“We in Cape May County have a $6.3 billion tourism business,” Cape May County Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton said. “Now I want you to imagine an oil spill out there today, with this wind blowing on the beach.
“We can’t afford that, ladies and gentlemen,” he added.
During seismic testing, air is blasted into the ocean floor every 10 seconds for an extended period of time. LoBiondo said he attended an air-gun demonstration last year.
“The decibel level for this seismic air gun is up to 250 decibels.” LoBiondo said. “That would blow a human ear out.”
Industry groups say seismic surveys have been conducted in the United States and around the world for decades, with little adverse impacts. The National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, the agency seeking the seismic testing permits, has said that air-gun operations would include measures to monitor and mitigate any harm to marine mammals.
Environmental groups say the testing would hurt fish and other marine life, and LoBiondo also suggested it would harm South Jersey’s fishing industry.
“They’re really defenseless against that noise,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of the North Jersey-based group Clean Ocean Action. “It would be like a war zone for marine life.”
The oil and gas industry has pushed for the seismic testing plan, which would map potential drilling sites from Delaware to central Florida. No surveys have been conducted in the region for at least 30 years.
Those at Monday’s event also railed against what they said they believe is the end game of the testing — oil and gas drilling off the East Coast. Spills and accidents are unpredictable and would threaten the Jersey Shore’s economy, several officials warned.
“We have enough natural disasters we have to worry about being in emergency management that we don’t need to worry about man-made disasters,” said Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi, who also heads Cape May County’s Office of Emergency Management.
“If we foul what’s out there, we can’t flip a switch and fix it,” LoBiondo said, gesturing toward the water.
LoBiondo has recently introduced a pair of bills to combat the administration’s plan — one that would ban permits for seismic activity in the Atlantic Ocean and another that would place a 10-year moratorium on offshore drilling in the body of water.
He said Monday that it’s still early in the process for both pieces of legislation. The seismic testing bill has gained 23 cosponsors, Lobiondo added.
The NMFS is accepting public comments on the proposed surveys through July 7.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.