The Trump administration approved five requests that would allow companies to conduct seismic airgun tests off the East Coast in search of potential drilling sites for oil and natural gas.
The seismic tests are done using blasts of compressed air, and the concern is that the surveys could harm whales, dolphins and other marine life.
According to an article in the Washington Post on Nov. 30, the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, issued final “incidental take” authorizations that allow companies conducting the surveys to harm wildlife if it’s unintentional.
“NOAA Fisheries is clear in the documentation related to [incidental take authorizations] that we do not expect mortality to occur as a result of these surveys,” NOAA spokesperson Katherine Brogan said in the article.
But members of Congress and governors of the states that could be impacted have all spoken out against the testing.
“It’s actually a pretty bipartisan collection of opposing parties,” Cassady Craighill, a communications specialist with Greenpeace, told Trade Only Today. “Greenpeace estimates that the seismic testing in the Atlantic could injure 138,000 whales and dolphins.”
The proposed area for testing extends from Delaware to Florida. “It’s basically the entire Eastern Seaboard, and most of the states are opposed,” Craighill said. “All the public comment around this issue has been against it.”
Seismic testing is the first step that could lead the way to drilling for oil or natural gas. The permits that were approved in late November are the first issued, but Craighill explained that the Bureau of Energy Management, which is a division of the Department of the Interior, still must approve additional permits about wildlife disturbance before the testing can begin.
Craighill said that the potential threat to wildlife is widespread. “The most immediate threat in terms of seismic testing is the threat to local seabeds, wildlife,” she said. “The other thing that’s significant is how loud they are.”
Once blasting begins, the acoustic waves are sent through the ocean every 10 to 12 seconds and can last for weeks. The testing is designed to map the ocean floor to estimate the possible existence of oil and natural gas. Only exploratory drilling can confirm the presence of gas or oil. The local habitat can be damaged by the sound waves, which can also damage marine mammals’ hearing. Other concerns are that animals will leave their habitats because of the disruption caused by the blasting.
“These are impulsive sounds and there are direct and indirect impacts,” said Dr. Tracy Romano, vice president of research and chief scientist at The Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn. “The sound itself can disrupt communication between animals, their feeding, their dives and reproduction can be impaired.”
Romano said that the testing will likely affect marine life ranging from the tiny plankton all the way to the North Atlantic Right Whale. She said that it’s “highly likely” that marine life will leave an area where repeated seismic blasts are felt. “It’s one thing if it’s acute and it ends,” she said. “But if it’s constant, that’s a whole other type of stress.”
On its website, the environmental protection association Oceana reported that a lawsuit was filed to stop the testing.
“This action is unlawful, and we’re going to stop it,” Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana, said in a statement. “The Trump administration’s rash decision to harm marine mammals hundreds of thousands of times in the hope of finding oil and gas is shortsighted and dangerous. Seismic airgun blasting can harm everything from tiny zooplankton and fish to dolphins and whales. More than 90 percent of the coastal municipalities in the blast zone have publicly opposed seismic airgun blasting off their coast. We won this fight before, and we’ll win it again.”