Federal officials are considering the impacts on wildlife from looking for oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean, including off Georgia’s coast. And they’re asking for public comment on the plan for the next 30 days.
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The Obama Administration had decided not to sell drilling leases or to permit seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean. This April, President Donald Trump directed the Department of the Interior to look at opening areas of the Atlantic up for drilling, and to expedite the process for issuing seismic testing permits.
Five companies have applied for permits to conduct what’s called “seismic testing.” That involves shooting blasts of air underwater, which can affect ocean animals, including whales.
“We do have concerns about how these activities may impact marine mammals, but we also believe we’ve put measures in place to offset them,” said Jolie Harrison, chief of the Permits and Conservation Division in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Office of Protected Resources.
Among the measures that NOAA would require are that companies keep a watch out for whales – both visually and with underwater audio monitoring tools – and stop seismic air blasts when sensitive species are nearby.
The companies would be allowed a certain number of “takes,” in this case, unintentionally damaging the hearing of a set number of whales, or unintentionally disrupting behaviors, like eating or diving.
Endangered North Atlantic right whales breed off the Georgia coast, and seismic tests would not be allowed during breeding season in areas designated “critical” to the whales.
It’s a long process for companies interested in oil exploration – or for drilling itself. NOAA decides if companies may be permitted to harm animals. Another agency, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), issues permits for the companies to do the seismic tests. BOEM also conducts lease sales, for companies that want to drill.