A Deeper Focus


The seismic testing fight is not over

As it turns out, C.O.A.S.T. Alliance’s amazingly successful grassroots campaign to convince the California Coastal Commission to turn down PG&E’s application to conduct high intensity seismic testing in waters off San Luis Obispo County at the 250 db level was only the beginning. While researching the issue, C.O.A.S.T. Alliance volunteers learned that the California State Lands Commission (CSLC) has been handing out permits for low energy seismic surveys to PG&E since 2008, without any knowledge of or approval by the CCC.

According to Mandy Davis of C.O.A.S.T, the trouble began back in 1984, when the CSLC began issuing permits to oil companies for low-level acoustic seismic testing off the Central Coast. By 1986, local fishermen were noticing their catch rates were down and by 1987, they had dropped by 52%. The testing stopped in 1987.

Enter PG&E in 2008, who begins using the old oil company permits approved by the CSLC. Even though we are now eleven years later, the permits have not been upgraded, despite the fact that new marine protected areas have been established. PG&E has continued the testing right up to last year, again causing a 50% loss of fish catch. PG&E and its contractor, Fugro, refuse to provide any mitigation to fishermen.

Even though these are supposedly low-intensity surveys, research by Carol Georgi and Karl Kempton, as reported in their article in the SLO Coast Journal shows that the surveys produced 232 db off Hueneme and 216 db offshore in San Luis Obispo County. The Navy standard for adult divers is no more than 145 db. PG&E was doing this testing without any warning to persons who may have been in the water at the time. Georgie and Kempton are concerned that the low frequency testing has “killed and damaged the marine web of life, the nearshore fishermen’s livelihoods, and the coastal economies.” They call for suspension of all geophysical survey permits, an investigation of PG&E’s five years of seismic testing, and an investigation of the CLSC’s geophysical survey permit program.

Mandy Davis and C.O.A.S.T. Alliance have asked the CCC for an investigation into seismic testing and to make the CCC the lead agency rather than the CLSC. They also presented the CCC at its January meeting in Morro Bay with a proposed resolution suspending all seismic testing off the California coast until the investigation is completed. “Our ultimate goal,” says Mandy, is to create a permanent, precedent-setting ban in California that other jurisdictions worldwide will be able to use as a model.”

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