- In November the Trump administration allowed five permits for seismic blasting in the Atlantic Ocean
- The companies are now waiting for their final permits to begin seismic blasting between New Jersey and Florida
- The right whale is one of many animals that is endangered from seismic testing
On Thursday, South Carolina Rep. Joe Cunningham blasted an air horn at a Natural Resources subcommittee hearing where an official from the Trump administration claimed seismic blasting presented no threat to whales.
Seismic blasting is a means of searching for oil and gas deposits in the ocean through the use of massive airguns. The airguns produce sounds comparable to underwater chemical explosives and are fired off for weeks and sometimes months at a time. Below is an audio clip of an airgun blast.
In April 2017, Trump signed an executive order that reversed permanent protections prohibiting these kinds of tests in our coastal area. Then last year the Trump administration awarded five companies permits to conduct seismic blasting for one year in an area of the Atlantic Ocean where the endangered right whale lives. There are less than 500 right whales in existence and attempts to bring the species back have struggled at best.
At Thursday’s Natural Resources subcommittee hearing, as the typical power struggle ensued between Republicans denying any risks for the planet and Democrats firmly pushing the apparent risks, Cunningham grabbed his air horn. Before blasting the horn, Cunningham asked National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assistant administrator Chris Oliver if these air guns are disruptive.
“It’s fair to say seismic air gun blasting is extremely loud and disruptive . . . is that correct?” Cunningham asked. According to Anchorage Daily News, Oliver replied, “I don’t know exactly how loud it is. I actually never experienced it myself.” After Cunningham blasted the airhorn, Oliver tried to play the sound off as “irritating,” but not “too disruptive,” despite the reaction of an audience of around 50.
Cunningham then asked if it would be disruptive if the sound occurred every ten seconds for a matter of weeks or months. He also reminded Oliver that an airgun is around 16,000 times louder than his air horn. Right whales and other marine life use echolocation to communicate, feed, mate, and watch over their young. So when something such as an airgun is going off every ten seconds, it prevents marine life from completing even simple tasks necessary for survival.
The five companies are now waiting for the final permits from the Interior Department to begin testing between New Jersey and Florida. Leading environmental groups sued the federal government in December in an attempt to prevent seismic testing from taking place. The lawsuit claims the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) in late November.