WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Friday authorized use of seismic air guns to find oil and gas formations deep underneath the Atlantic Ocean floor, reversing Obama administration policies and drawing outrage from critics who say the practice can disturb or injure whales, sea turtles and other marine life.
The National Marine Fisheries Service said 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.
Seismic surveys have not been conducted in the region for at least 30 years.
Seismic air guns fire intense blasts of compressed air into the seabed every 10 to 12 seconds, for weeks or months at a time. The blasts reflect back information about buried oil and gas deposits, as well as potential seafloor hazards and sand and gravel resources for beach restoration.
The blasts are so loud they can disturb or injure endangered whales and other marine mammals and increase the risk of calves being separated from their mothers, environmental groups say.
Industry groups counter that seismic surveys have been conducted in the U.S. and around the world for decades, with little adverse impacts.
Administration officials said that under terms of the law that protects marine life, the permits would allow “harassment” of whales and sea turtles but would not allow companies to kill them.
Survey vessels will be required to have observers on board to listen and watch for marine life and alert operators if a protected species comes within a certain distance, officials said.