for oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean will cover more territory
than any previous modern-day seismic testing, giving pause to
environmentalists and federal regulators.
such an expansive area of ocean floor to survey, companies currently
seeking permits to conduct seismic surveys in the Atlantic will likely
be working over long periods of time, raising the potential to exposing
marine mammals and other aquatic life to extended periods of acoustic
why we’re just trying to take a very careful look at these requests,”
said Ben Laws, a fishery biologist with the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service in
Silver Spring, Md. “You have a much larger survey in terms of the
number of miles that they have to cover. With these much larger areas
these folks are interested in working for a full year.”
sheer scale and span of time seismic survey companies want to work in
the Atlantic prompted NOAA, which issues seismic operations permits, to
provide a 30-day public review and comment period on the applications.
far five applications have been submitted for Atlantic seismic survey
permits. Seismic operations are controversial because the use of sound
sources may disturb marine mammals by disrupting their behavioral
patterns, according to critics.
Atlantic Ocean hosts a diversified species of marine mammals, about 30
or so that include large whales, including humpback and North Atlantic
right whales, and dolphins.
species, as well as sea turtles, are among those that could be affected
by the use of air guns conducting seismic operations.
fisheries’ decides whether to authorize incidental “takes” – the
inadvertent harming, killing, disturbance or destruction of wildlife –
anticipated to occur during such testing.
and authorizations for the “take” of a protected species are required
under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which protects all marine
mammals, and the Endangered Species Act.
the act to protect marine mammals, this means examining how seismic
surveying will affect overall each species or the individual population.
we look at the number of takes, which is in this case the exposure of
an animal to sound, that number of takes has to be small,” Laws said.
There is no definitive number of takes to quantify “small.”
experts establish what they deem an acceptable amount of takes by
looking at the total number of estimated takes and comparing that to
the population of each specific species.
conclusions will be based on various existing studies on the impacts of
seismic testing on marine mammals and other ocean life.
in any case, we look at the available scientific information,” Laws
said. “Basically our standard is to use the best available scientific
information. There’s a number of studies out there in the peer-reviewed
literature and agency review reports and it is on a larger scale.”
areas sought for seismic surveying in the Atlantic are substantially
larger than testing sites in other seas such as the Gulf of Mexico and
National Science Foundation funded a much publicized and highly
controversial seismic survey this past summer off the New Jersey shore.
The operation was intended to collect and analyze three-dimensional
images of sediments dating back 60 million years to study sea level
That operational area spanned about three square nautical miles.
of the survey applicants planning to work in the Atlantic initially
sought to operate in an area spanning more than 50 square miles. “We
have worked with that company to reduce the size of that survey,” Laws
testing uses air guns towed behind ships to send sonic waves that
penetrate the ocean floor. How those waves are reflected from the
bottom gives hints to the location and extent of oil or natural gas
deposits below the surface.
are different types of seismic surveys. Two-dimensional surveying is a
regional means of collecting data with a single air gun array. This
type of surveying can cover large areas in a short time.
Two-dimensional surveys were conducted from 1966–1988 in all areas of
the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf, but technology has greatly been
enhanced since those tests were performed.
A majority of the permit applicants want to run two-dimensional surveys.
are steps that may be taken to lessen the risk of harm to marine
mammals and other marine life such as sea turtles. The NMFS require
seismic operators to use ramp-up and visual observations while
public will have the opportunity to review proposed incidental take
authorizations. That will be the next step in the permitting review
process, Laws said.
of the public that read the proposed authorizations will be allowed to
provide relevant information – not comments opposing or supporting
offshore oil and natural gas development – on the affects of seismic
activity on marine life.
A decision on whether to issue the permits could come by the end of the year.
To Learn More
article is provided by Coastal Review Online, an online news service
covering North Carolina's coast. For more news, features, and
information about the coast, go to www.coastalreview.org.)