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Victory over Seismic Testing in California

Created on Friday, 16 November 2012

Environmental groups, wildlife enthusiasts, tribal leaders, and ocean users are celebrating yesterday’s victory over the proposed Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) high energy seismic testing near Diablo Canyon, on California’s Central Coast. After an 8 hour hearing that featured commentary from the Surfrider Foundation and other activists, a unanimous decision was made by the California Coastal Commission to deny PG&E the necessary permits for the testing, based on the findings that the proposal would violate the Coastal Act.

Of primary concern to those in opposition was the potential damage to marine life, proximity to Marine Protected Areas (Point Buchon State Marine Reserve), and the propensity for a negative impact to local commercial fishing. The proposed study was to include the use of a ~250 decibel air cannon being towed by a large vessel. The soundwaves were to be emitted from the air cannons every 20 seconds for 42 consecutive days over a 90-mile range of the coast in order to learn how the faultlines in the area interact, which have important implications for the nuclear power plant situated at Diablo Canyon. Particularly sensitive to this study would be the local marine mammal population — including but not limited to southern sea otters, seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, and whales. It was speculated that there could be disturbances to local fish populations as well, as they could be driven away by the loud blasts. PG&E released a statement that acknowledged a “temporary disturbance to fish and marine mammals in the survey areas”, but that in similar projects worldwide no long-term adverse impacts to marine life were noted.

Thanks to the Coastal Commission and the support of many activist groups and passionate ocean user groups, this potentially harmful project will not be moving forward. Ocean stewardship begins at the individual level and it takes a great deal of effort to combat proposed plans like this one. This is truly a win for Californians who work and recreate in their ocean.  As stakeholders in these types of decisions, exercising our rights to challenge projects that don’t have positive implications for our wildlife is of the utmost importance.

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Photo: Madralynn Haye/Marine Photobank