Bloomberg | Jennifer Dlouhy | November 29, 2018
The Trump administration is taking a major step toward allowing a first-in-a-generation seismic search for oil and gas under Atlantic waters, despite protests that the geological tests involve loud air gun blasts that will harm whales, dolphins and other animals.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is set to issue “incidental harassment authorizations” allowing seismic surveys proposed by five companies that permits them to disturb marine mammals that are otherwise protected by federal law, according to three people familiar with the activity who asked not to be named before a formal announcement.
The firms, including TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Co. Asa and Schlumberger Ltd. subsidiary WesternGeco Ltd., still must win individual permits from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management before they can conduct the work, but those are widely expected under President Donald Trump, who has made “energy dominance” a signature goal.
The seismic surveys to identify oil and gas reserves would be conducted in Atlantic Ocean waters along the U.S. East Coast, from Delaware to central Florida.
The research involves periodic blasts from large compressed air guns, which send out sound waves that penetrate the sea floor. When the sound waves bounce back, they are captured by sensors towed behind seismic vessels. The resulting data is used to produce detailed maps of underground geological features.
Conservationists say the blasts are so loud they jeopardize the hearing of dolphins, cause whales to beach themselves and disrupt animals’ mating and feeding habits. Scientists have warned that the surveys could cause long-lasting damage to marine animals.
The harassment authorizations are expected to lay out steps the geophysical companies must take to mitigate damage to animals, including limitations blocking surveys during the calving season for the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale. There are under 500 remaining North Atlantic Right Whales, which travel each winter from their feeding grounds near Canada and New England to warmer waters off South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
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