The surveys, which haven’t been conducted in decades, are criticized by environmentalists as extremely harmful to marine life.
By Alan Neuhauser, The Atlantic, November 30th, 2018
ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS slammed the Trump administration’s announcement Friday that it plans to allow oil-seeking seismic surveys across an enormous swath of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in decades, saying the tests will take a massive toll on ocean wildlife.
The move, which would allow five companies to conduct the tests in waters spanning Delaware to Florida, marks the most significant step since the 1970s to open the Atlantic to drilling, although several steps remain before such production might begin.
“What’s exceptional is to see five companies all covering a region at this scale at the same time. It reflects a gold rush mentality,” says Michael Jasny, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Seismic surveys are believed to be particularly harmful to marine life. The tests involve repeatedly blasting deafening booms underwater, often seconds apart for months at a time. Whales and dolphins, as well other underwater creatures, have especially sensitive hearing, and environmentalists fear the tests will injure or kill thousands of the mammals as well as fishes.
“Seismic airgun blasting would harm marine mammals and threaten fishing, and it is a precursor to drilling that coastal communities strongly oppose,” Alex Taurel, director of the conservation program at the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement. “Rather than setting our shores on the path to dirty and dangerous drilling, we should be investing in our nation’s clean energy economy.”
The move by the Trump administration Friday inherently acknowledges the harm that environmentalists fear. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which is part of the Commerce Department, issued what’s known as an “incidental take” permit, which allows companies to injure even endangered and threatened wildlife while engaging in activities such as seismic surveys.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a division of the Interior Department, still needs to issue its own permits before the tests can begin, but the agency’s acting director told Congress earlier this year that he would expect to greenlight the surveys as soon as two weeks after the approval from the Fisheries Service. A legal expert for one environmental group called is “a fait accompli.”
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