Nature

Trump Proves Tone Deaf In Authorizing Lethal Seismic Airgun Blasts

In a two-for-one opportunity to do damage to living things and the environment along the Atlantic Coast, the Trump administration just approved five permits to allow seismic air gun blasts as a first step towards opening the Atlantic to new oil drilling – while also putting endangered marine mammals such as right whales at risk of death.

Right Whale

The new airgun permit authorizations could cause serious harm to the population of the already-endangered right whale. Photo: CC 3.0, Michaël Catanzariti

“The Trump administration is giving the oil industry permission to launch a brutal sonic assault on North Atlantic right whales and other wildlife,” said Kristen Monsell, ocean program legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These airgun blasts will injure and kill marine animals, and are the gateway to opening the East Coast to offshore drilling and toxic oil spills. We’ll fight to protect endangered right whales from these deafening blasts and the drilling and spilling that could come next.” 

The announcement comes following the death of at least 20 endangered North Atlantic right whales since April 2017, and years of population decline. Scientists estimate that the population now contains only 411 animals. The permits allow the firing of seismic air guns from ships every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks at a time, at a noise level that would rupture a human eardrum. More than 220 municipalities along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts have formally opposed oil and gas drilling and seismic airgun blasting.

Shortly before leaving office, the Obama administration denied these seismic applications, partly because of their harmful impact on right whales and other marine mammals. But in May 2017, the corrupt Trump regime revoked that denial and announced it was reconsidering the permits. 

“It’s just so sad to see whales and dolphins acoustically attacked in the search for oil we shouldn’t be drilling anyway,” Monsell said. “We need to protect the Atlantic, not let industry destroy it.” 

In 2015, 75 scientists found that opening the Atlantic Ocean to seismic airgun exploration “poses an unacceptable risk of serious harm to marine life.” The scientists also warned of “significant, long-lasting, and widespread” harm to fish and marine mammal populations should the blasting proceed.

The seismic blasts, which can reach more than 250 decibels, can cause hearing loss in marine mammals, disturb essential behaviors such as feeding and breeding over vast distances, mask communications between individual whales and dolphins, and reduce catch rates of commercial fish.

That these blasts can be approved at all at a time when marine ecosystems are already under assault from ocean warming, sea level rise, plastic pollution and overextended marine oil exploration is a crime in itself. Ironically, it shows how tone-deaf the Trump administration continues to be regarding its many legal obligations to care for the environment and the creatures that live within it.

The blast permits approved on November 30 were issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to Spectrum Geo Inc., TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company, ION GeoVentures, WesternGeco, LLC and CGG.

The companies also need permits from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.