Feds Approve Proposed Rutgers Seismic Research Off Jersey Shore, But Christie Administration Pushes Back

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—In response to federal approval of a controversial seismic imaging research project that would take place of the Jersey shore, the New Jersey state governmnt has filed for an injunction to halt the study. 

"The state has filed legal papers to seek injunctive relief in federal court to prevent the vessel, R/V Marcus G. Langseth, from conducting seismic research off the coast of New Jersey at this time," reads an announcement made by the  New Jersey Department of Environmental (DEP) today.

On Tuesday, July 1, the National Oceanographic and Atomospheric Administration (NOAA) gave its approval for the Rutgers-led study that would take place between 15 to 50 miles off Barneget Inlet. 

Professor Greg Mountain of Geology at Rutgers University told the Asbury Park Press that the study will enable scientists to observe sea-floor sediments and sea level changes as far back as 60 million years.

Researchers will accumulate data on past climate changes and trends, as well as predict what future climate changes the Jersey Shore might undergo. 

The DEP announced on Thursday, July 3, that it plans to file federal injunction to halt the study, filing the court papers today.

"DEP contends that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration failed to act properly when NOAA denied the DEP’s request to study fisheries impacts", read a press release.

“The Christie Administration continues to focus on clean ocean water quality, protecting our coastline and working to enhance our coastal recreation and fishing industries."

"The timing of this program will be detrimental to various marine species that migrate and breed off the New Jersey coast and will negatively impact the commercial and recreational fishing industries, and related tourism, that relies heavily on these resources", said  Bob Martin, the DEP Comissioner.

The study, which will be led by Rutgers and coordinated by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and National Science Foundation, is aimed at examining sediment and geological rock formatons flood plains, river beds and the ocean floor.

Researchers plan to utilize a specialized National Science Foundation vessel, known as the Marcus G. Langseth. The vessel was docked at Charleston, South Carolina, and is currnetly traveling north to the site of the project. 

The permit was issued by the NOAA's National Marine Fishers Service. However, the study still requires the approval  of the National Science Foundation, which needs to determine if the study is environmentally sound, before giving the final approval. 

The study would deliberately harass sea creatures, such as sea turtles and whales, and would otherwise be prohibited by federal law.

However, the permit issued by the National Science Foundation would allow the study to bypass these regulations. If this permit was not issued however, the study could be halted indefinately. 

Harming the marine animals does not necessarily mean to kill or injure them, but rather, cause a disturbance in the animals. Whale courses could be altered, or communication disrupted. 

The proposed tests made for a rare alliance between Christie and environmental groups.

Clean Ocean Action, as well as other environmental and local interest groups, submitted a request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to further view the study before approving it, though the request was denied.

The environmental group also voiced concerns that since the results of the study would be made public, they could be utilized by the oil and gas industry for off-shore drilling. 

Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, told NJ1015 that he felt the study was a "terrible decision."

“It is wrong for our coast because it will hurt our environment, fisheries and marine mammals. This is not about science. It is really about getting information for drilling off our coast. This is the way NMFS celebrates Fourth of July, with underwater fireworks.” 

New Jersey's fishing and tourism industry were also concerned about the project, worrying it could negatively effect them as well. Members of the fishing industry voiced concerns that the seismic imaging's sound would scare away or kill fish. 

Critics have pointed out that the area utilized by the research team could disrupt the fishing season, especially due to the fact that the project would span several weeks in the summer. The project would last 720 hours, or approximately 30 days, during the summer.

Controversy from the project also stems from the fact that seismic air guns will be used to shoot blasts of compressed air into the seabed.

“The study would send seismic blasts of up to 250 decibels into the water every 5 seconds, 24 hours a day for 30 days, interfering with marine animal communication and movement," Cassandra Ornell, a staff scientist with Clean Ocean Action, told Barnegat-Manahawkin Patch.

"By comparison, impairment of human hearing begins after 30 seconds of exposure at 115 decibels. Marine animals are much more sensitive to sound than people are.”  

Rutgers professors have responded to the criticism from multiple parties, saying that the research would not harm animals, and would be necessary to attain valuable data. Scientists have contested the claims that the sounds from the research could harm animals, stating that they could not be heard heard more than 1/4 of a mile away. 

Scientists also assured that five marine mammal experts will be on board during the duration of the study, so in order to ensure that participants are abiding by all standards and regulations.

Protocols would even be in place to slow down or cancel the operation if it was deemed necessary.