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Environmentalists Fear Dangerous Undersea Noise Pollution From Oil Testing

Environmentalists fear seismic testing will silence and disorient whales and other sea mammals to a dangerous degree.
Environmentalists fear seismic testing will silence and disorient whales and other sea mammals to a dangerous degree.

Just imagine that you’re sitting in your home and you hear a loud explosion from down the street that nearly blasts your eardrums out.

And then after another 10 seconds . . .


After 10 more seconds, another deafening blast. And another and another. Over and over again. Day and night.

That’s what many marine biologists say marine mammals will have to endure from seismic testing. 

“We know that seismic airguns silence whales -- stop them from calling, from vocalizing – over vast areas of ocean,” says Michael Jasny,  director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Marine Mammal Protection Project.

The controversial process, a precursor to off-shore drilling, was halted by an order from President Barack Obama shortly before he left office. 

But in May, the Trump administration began the process of fast-tracking the permitting process for seismic airgun blasting.  If approved, the plan would allow five companiesto conduct the testing from Delaware down to Cape Canaveral. 

It’s an idea that environmentalists are fighting tooth and nail.  They’re joined by at least 100 members of Congresswho wrote to the Department of the Interior to quash the whole idea.

Seismic blasting involves the use of large arrays of airguns. They fire compressed air into the water, producing a loud sound. The sound travels down through the water column, penetrates the sea floor and reflects off of structures deep beneath the ocean floor. It basically takes a sonogram of the ocean floor to scan rock formations for any oil deposits hiding beneath them.

But Jasny says it’s not worth the risk.  He points to a recently published Australian studysuggesting that seismic blasting annihilated zooplankton within a 1 ½-mile swath of ocean around just a single airgun.

“That’s an incredibly significant finding,” says Jasny. “Zooplankton are the building blocks of the entire ocean food web.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a division of the Department of the Interior, would ultimately issue the permits. No decisions have been made yet.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is responsible for examining any potential harm that seismic testing could do to marine animals. In a written statement, a NOAA representative said the agency has measures in place to mitigate any harm to marine mammals and that “ . . . there is no scientific evidence or documented occurrence of marine mammal deaths resulting from seismic airgun noise.”

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