Trump Administration Seeking Permits For Seismic Air Gun Surveys In Atlantic

Andrew Cummings
June 6, 2017

The Trump administration is taking steps to allow five energy companies to use seismic air guns for oil and gas exploration off the U.S. Atlantic coast even thought they would incidentally harass marine mammals.

For a clip from the NRDC documentary Sonic Sea, about how seismic testing and other ocean activity harms marine life, see here.

Jolie Harrison, chief of the permits and conservation division of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources, said that the agency would have protections for marine life, including mammals such as whales and dolphins.

"That's why we're suddenly seeing the denial of the permits withdrawn", said Michael Jasny, director of the marine mammal protection project at the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that is suing the Trump administration over the executive order. "He should put America's Atlantic Coast first and not the profits of foreign seismic companies and their multi-national big oil clients". Officials and business owners in coastal towns up and down the Atlantic also oppose the air guns.

The latest announcement by the Trump administration raises the question whether Gov. Chris Christie will once again oppose the testing as he did under the Obama administration.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service will seek comments through July 7 before making a final decision on granting the permits for an area from the Delaware-New Jersey border to Florida's Space Coast. Previous testing, completed about 30 years ago, showed the Atlantic OCS could hold as much as 4.7 billion barrels of oil and 37 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, but some experts believe the reserves could be far greater.

The proposed authorizations will be officially published tomorrow morning in the Federal Register, kicking off a 30-day comment period.

Specifically, the order calls for a review of the Five-Year Program (2017-2022) for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf, and directs the administration to fast-track the permitting process for seismic airgun blasting. Nowachek was among 75 scientists who signed on to a 2015 letter opposing seismic surveys, and he said the prospect is a serious danger to the critically endangered north Atlantic right whale.

The data collected through seismic testing would be sold to oil and gas companies and would update 30-year-old maps of the ocean's subfloor to provide companies and the federal government with more information about where oil or gas deposits may be located off the Mid-Atlantic and South-Atlantic coasts, including SC.

Rick Baumann, founder and owner of Murrells Inlet Seafood in SC, expressed his determination to oppose the permits in a call with reporters organized by NRDC this morning. As the AP notes, industry groups argue that "seismic surveys have been conducted in the US and around the world for decades, with little adverse impacts".

"It should be obvious to anyone who looks at this issue seriously that seismic blasting and offshore drilling are a real threat to our way of life and our ability to provide fresh seafood to the public", Baumann said. The exploration activities are the first step to opening the Atlantic to new oil drilling.

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