Oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean may drive North Atlantic right whales to extinction, warn environmentalists.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management recently issued new guidelines that could affect the search for oil off the coasts of America. Officials there are concerned about planned seismic testing, used in the search for gas and oil reserves.
Leases to drill in offshore locations were set to allow drilling, beginning in 2011. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the Obama Administration delayed drilling until 2017.
Oil industry officials want to use modern seismic techniques to recheck areas explored decades ago using older technologies.
Seismic guns deliver powerful blasts of compressed air that travel through water, striking the ocean floor. When these waves of pressure propagate through bedrock, they bend as they move from one type of material to another. By measuring the degree by which the wave is reflected, it is possible to determine the make-up, and location, of oil deposits.
Proponents of seismic exploration believe they may be able to discover new reserves of fuel. In addition, they could also avoid costly drilling in areas where oil is not likely to be found. The Interior Department recently recommended exploration using seismic guns.
Wildlife conservation groups, however, are fighting this technique, saying animals in the marine environment should not be exposed to the effects of the blasts.
Whales, dolphins, and many other animals depend on sound for navigation and communication. The seismic testing, which would continue for at least one year, could put the marine animals in danger.
"Seismic airgun testing isn't simply a method of surveying a coastal area for its energy potential. The blasts from seismic airguns are 100,000 times more intense than a jet plane engine and are emitted every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks and months at a time. It's disruptive, destructive, and directly threatens the survival of marine creatures like dolphins, whales, and turtles," Suzie Hodges of Oceana, a conservancy group, wrote on the organization's Web site.
Government estimates say an estimated 138,500 marine mammals, such as dolphins and whales, may be injured by testing. The blasts will be powerful enough to cause temporary or permanent hearing loss in animals. They can also kill eggs and pupae.
North Atlantic right whales migrate near the areas being tested, along the east coast of the United States, between Florida and Delaware. Just 500 of the highly-intelligent and social animals are known to be alive today.
Jobs are another issue being considered in this debate. Oil companies have stated seismic exploration could create up to 280,000 jobs. Estimates by Oceana predict 730,000 jobs will put at risk by the seismic guns, due to disruptions in tourism and boating.
Activists are comparing the sounds of testing to hearing dynamite exploding in your backyard.