The Interior Department said Friday that it will allow companies to use seismic air guns and other methods to gauge oil-and-gas resources underlying Atlantic Coast waters.
The department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management finalized a plan that lays out a series of environmental restrictions—aimed at protecting marine life, such as whales, dolphins, and sea turtles—for companies seeking to look for oil in mid- and South Atlantic waters. A number of companies have applied for permits for testing that would update old estimates of oil and gas underlying the waters that have long been off-limits to drilling.
The plan is a blow to environmentalists who say that the underwater blasts will wreak havoc. "Impacts to marine mammals could include everything from temporary or permanent hearing loss, to disruption of vital behaviors like communicating, feeding, mating, calving, and migrating, [as well as] masking of biologically important sounds," said Claire Douglass of the group Oceana.
Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management defended the seismic-testing decision, and a senior official said testing may begin as soon as early next year. Friday's decision doesn't approve any permits but rather sets out a framework for how Interior will govern the process.