Frank LoBiondo at Nature Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows Preserve

Frank LoBiondo is all smiles during an event at the Nature Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows Preserve in Cape May on Oct. 15.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo has joined 92 other House members from both parties in opposing the Trump administration’s decision to allow seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean.

Critics say the constant barrage of compressed air blasts used to find gas and oil deposits under the sea floor harms marine mammals and other sea life.

LoBiondo, R-2nd, said Friday he had signed a letter sent to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, asking them not to issue final permits.

“Seismic testing is a prelude to drilling for oil and natural gas,” said LoBiondo, a longtime foe of drilling in the Atlantic.

He said he opposes the seismic testing not just because it can lead to drilling, but because of the danger high decibel levels and frequencies pose to marine mammals and other sea life.

“I’m on the beach at the crack of dawn with the dogs, watching pods of dolphins. It’s going to affect them,” LoBiondo said Friday.

He said New Jersey has humpback whales and other incredible species off the coast that need protection.

The National Marine Fisheries Service said recently it has authorized permits under the Marine Mammal Protection Act for five companies to use the air guns for seismic surveys in the mid-Atlantic, from Delaware to central Florida.

Seismic surveys for oil and gas have not been conducted in the region for at least 30 years.

Seismic blasts can cause hearing damage, stress and other harm to aquatic species, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, according to the congressional letter.

The airguns threaten “marine life that support coastal economies from Florida to Maine,” according to the letter, which reiterated legislators’ opposition to drilling in the Atlantic.

“Numerous studies show the detrimental impacts seismic airgun blasting has on fisheries and marine mammals, thereby affecting the catch anglers bring dockside and the revenue generated by related businesses,” it said.

The letter urged the Department of the Interior to deny the final seismic survey permits, citing a 2014 study conducted off North Carolina by the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Duke University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It found the abundance of reef-fish declined by 78 percent during evening hours while seismic testing was conducted. That’s the time of day fish use of that same habitat was highest when seismic surveys were not being conducted.

More than 220 local municipalities have passed formal resolutions opposing oil and gas exploration and/or drilling in the Atlantic or Eastern Gulf, the letter states, and almost 2,000 local, state and federal officials have formally opposed or expressed concerns about expanded offshore oil and gas development.

In April 2017, LoBiondo and U.S. Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia introduced legislation to halt permits for seismic airgun blasting on the Atlantic Seaboard, LoBiondo said. The Atlantic Seismic Airgun Protection Act is before the House Natural Resources Committee.

LoBiondo also joined a letter led by U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey on the same issue earlier this week, his office said.

Contact: 609-272-7219 mpost@pressofac.com Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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