“Mr. Chair, I’d ask for unanimous consent to sound an air horn in committee.”
That was the unusual request made by Freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) during a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife hearing on Thursday, all in the name of making a point about the impact of one controversial method of offshore oil work.
Cunningham’s line of questioning focused on seismic airgun blasting — a controversial method of searching for oil and gas under the seabed. Critics of the method have argued that it is disruptive to marine life, something even the federal government has conceded in allowing operators to use the equipment in the ocean.
After receiving unanimous consent from the committee — and granting everyone in attendance a moment to brace themselves — Cunningham sounded a portable air horn in the committee room.
“Was that disruptive, Mr. Oliver?” he asked of Chris Oliver, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s assistant administrator for fisheries.
Watch the video below:
Today, I used an airhorn to demonstrate how disruptive seismic airgun blasting is to marine life. It was LOUD. Now imagine that sound 16,000x louder, repeated every 10 seconds for months, when you depend on sound to communicate/navigate. That's what seismic airgun blasting does. pic.twitter.com/1uBPyHVWu3
— Rep. Joe Cunningham (@RepCunningham) March 7, 2019
After Oliver conceded that the noise was “irritating,” but not “particularly disruptive,” Cunningham pressed him further.
“How much louder do you think seismic airgun blasting sounds than this air horn you just heard?” the congressman questioned, urging Oliver to “take a guess” after he admitted he did not know.
After Oliver repeatedly declined to take a guess, Cunningham revealed the number:
“What if I were to tell you it’s 16,000 times louder than what you just heard here? Can you see how that would be impactful on marine species and mammals?”
Oliver admitted that he did understand Cunningham’s point, noting regulations on the proximity to wildlife at which seismic airgun blasting can be conducted.
Cunningham’s point seems to have also gotten the attention of his colleagues on the committee. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) tweeted that the South Carolina Democrat had used the air horn “right next to me.”
In this hearing on North Atlantic right whales, @RepCunningham just tried to get an Administration official to admit seismic airgun blasting is disruptive by setting off an air horn right next to me.
I can confirm that it was LOUD. Seismic airguns are thousands of times louder. pic.twitter.com/xBVTKkdXEz
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) March 7, 2019
“I can confirm that it was LOUD,” he added. “Seismic airguns are thousands of times louder.”