The news broke on the evening of Friday, Nov. 2: A state regulating agency is not likely to hand Pacific Gas & Electric a pivotal permit necessary to kick off its controversial seismic studies off the Central Coast.
Sans a permit, those tests won’t take place this year.
On Nov. 2, staffers for the California Coastal Commission released their long-awaited staff report on the project, recommending that commissioners deny PG&E’s request for a coastal development permit at their Nov. 14 hearing in Santa Monica.
According to the report, coastal staff’s greatest concern about the testing is the “significant” and “unavoidable” impacts to marine resources as laid out in the project’s environmental impact report.
“Seismic surveys are among the very loudest anthropogenic underwater sound sources and can cause disturbance, injury, and loss of a large number of marine species due to air gun noise,” the report reads.
Specifically, staff was most concerned about impacts to Morro Bay’s own stock of harbor porpoises, whose entire population would be subjected to the noise, as their migratory range will be encompassed by the testing.
The report acknowledged that the research vessel being considered to conduct the work has monitoring measures in place to reduce those impacts, but staffers argued that a number of limitations, such as night testing and weather conditions, would render the measures “ineffective much of the time.”
A staff recommendation is just that, and the 12 voting members of the commission can overrule the decision.
PG&E Spokesman Blair Jones said the utility is reviewing the report and will be collaborating with coastal staff leading up to the Nov. 14 hearing.
“PG&E is committed to conducting this proposed seismic research safely and in an environmentally responsible manner. Similar research is performed around the world without harming marine life,” Jones told New Times via e-mail. “Our proposal includes an effective science plan, the correct research vessel, and comprehensive marine life protective and monitoring programs. Public and regulator input are always included in our decisions surrounding the operation of Diablo Canyon.”
Should the utility not receive necessary permits to begin testing this year, it could continue to seek such permits to complete its studies—the first, or “low-energy” phase of which has already been conducted on-shore—next year.