The Trump administration is authorizing the use of seismic air guns to find oil and gas formations deep underneath the Atlantic Ocean floor, prompting outrage from critics who say the practice can disturb or injure whales, sea turtles, and other marine life.
The National Marine Fisheries Service says it has authorized permits under the Marine Mammal Protection Act for five companies to use air guns for seismic surveys in the mid-Atlantic, from Delaware to central Florida.
The surveys are part of President Donald Trump’s bid to expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic.
The plan has drawn opposition from East Coast lawmakers and governors, who say it could hurt commercial fishing and tourism.
Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-06), who represents a portion of the northern Jersey Shore, blasted the decision.
“An environmentally sound coast is critical to New Jersey’s economy and it is very possible that seismic testing could lead to oil and gas drilling off our coast – threatening public health, coastal communities, and hundreds of thousands of jobs,” he said in a prepared statement.
Seismic surveys have not been conducted in the region for at least 30 years.
Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (R-02), who represents a portion of the southern Jersey Shore and did not seek reelection in 2018 due to a planned retirement, has previously said that the practice has “significant, adverse effects” on marine life.
But in the August 22, 2014 edition of “Science Notes,” a newsletter published by the federal government’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, an agency representative wrote that in more than 30 years of air gun use, “there has been no documented scientific evidence of the noise […] adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities.”
The newsletter notes that the government requires mitigation measures, including a required distance between surveys and marine mammals and closures for certain species.
Permits for blasting were halted before former President Barack Obama left office in early 2017.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.