Seismic Testing Blocked in Central California

The California Coastal Commission voted 10-0 against allowing Pacific Gas & Electric to conduct seismic testing near Morro Bay today, on the basis the underwater air cannons to be used can cause severe harm to fish and marine mammals.

Opponents of PG&E’s plan, including fishing industry and environmental representatives, attended the Commission’s hearing on the matter in Santa Monica, and debated the issue with PG&E officials. The plan was devised to create a three dimensional image of the seafloor fault lines in the area in order to assess risks to the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, which is situated within three miles of two seismic faults, according to this Washington Post story.

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in Avila, California. Photo by "Mike" Michael L. Baird via Flickr, Creative Commons License. 

The tests would have involved a vessel towing a ¼ mile-wide array of air cannons through a 130 square mile area, while emitting 250-decibel blasts on fifteen second intervals, continuously for 17 days, according to an LA Times story. The air cannons are expected to maim or kill wildlife - particularly marine mammals, some of which are listed as threatened or endangered, which heavily depend on their sense of hearing for navigation, communication and hunting.

PG&E argued it would prevent harm to marine life by stationing observers on the vessel, onshore, and in airplanes to spot injured animals and carcasses, and stopping work if they knew it was within 0.6 miles of a marine mammal. It also offered to recoup losses to fishermen.

PG&E has not stated whether it will re-apply for the permit but commissioners said they were unlikely to change their mind if it did.

Humpback whale swimming near Diablo facility. Photo by "Mike" Michael L. Baird via Flickr, Creative Commons License. 

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