Trump administration gets closer to Atlantic seismic blasting with exemptions for marine life harm

Bottlenose dolphins, along with the endangered North Atlantic right whale, are among the species that will be impacted by proposed seismic blasting in the Atlantic. (© AAndromeda)

The Trump administration continued trying to clear the way for seismic blasting—a precursor to heavily opposed offshore oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic Coast—with five draft “Incidental Harassment Authorizations” issued today. These documents are required exemptions for ocean activity that impacts marine mammals and other marine life.

With this move, the Trump Administration appears poised to reverse the Obama Administration’s rejection of seismic permits this January, in response to intensive coastal opposition to both offshore drilling and seismic testing. More than 120 cities and towns along the Atlantic have passed resolutions against offshore drilling and seismic testing.

“If the Administration continues to push forward risky seismic blasting, it will pave the way for offshore drilling, which would be a direct hit to our economy, environment, communities, and way of life” said Sierra Weaver, leader of SELC’s coast and wetlands program. “And even before the drilling gets underway, seismic blasting would do significant harm to our robust commercial fishing industry and endangered whales over vast areas of the ocean. The coast said ‘no’ to the last President when he tried to impose seismic blasting and offshore drilling on our communities, and we say no to this one, too.”

The Department of Commerce today issued five draft incidental harassment authorizations, a required step before companies can conduct seismic blasting to search for offshore oil and gas. A key test for incidental harassment authorization is that the proposed activity cannot have more than a “negligible impact” on marine mammals. However, in 2015, a group of 75 scientists—including leading marine biologist experts—warned of “significant, long-lasting, and widespread” harm to fish and marine mammal populations if seismic blasting occurred. This process involves dynamite-like blasts going off every ten seconds for weeks or months on end.

All companies conducting seismic airgun blasting must obtain a final incidental harassment authorization from the Department of Commerce and a permit from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management before seismic blasting can begin. The Department of Commerce is soliciting public comments on the draft authorizations for 30 days and is expected to make a final decision on authorizations later this year.

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