Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling has formally opposed federal permits that would allow companies conducting seismic testing to harass marine life as a byproduct of the process.
A public comment period seeking input on the authorizations ends Thursday. Five companies have applied to use seismic air guns to survey the Atlantic Ocean for potential oil and gas deposits.
Seismic testing requires separate approval from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the companies “to incidentally, but not intentionally, harass marine mammals.”
The proposed testing would violate federal law by affecting more than a small number of animals and would have more than the “negligible impact” required for the authorizations, Keyserling wrote in a letter dated July 1 to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
“It seems nearly impossible for the proposed (authorizations) to meet this standard with five seismic surveys being permitted in approximately the same geographic area, whether occurring consecutively or concurrently,” Keyserling wrote to Jolie Harrison, permits chief for the Fisheries Service.
The permits would include certain requirements intended to limit the negative effect on marine life, including:
▪ Observers on board to watch and listen for animals and tell operators when a protected species is nearby
▪ Restrictions on operating near sensitive species, including shutdowns when certain animals are seen
▪ Monitoring to listen for mammals communicating under water
▪ Gradual increase in the air guns’ intensity to alert animals of what’s coming
In June, more than 100 members of Congress signed a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke opposing seismic testing. The letter said the testing would threaten coastal economies and marine life and cautioned that the survey data would not be made available for public scrutiny.
“Our constituents would be left taking on significant risk without being involved in future development decisions,” the letter said.
Seismic testing uses blasts from airguns towed behind boats to probe the ocean floor for oil and gas. The issue resurfaced in April with President Donald Trump’s executive order that could reverse previous restrictions and open the Atlantic to exploration and drilling.
Government studies have shown seismic testing in the Atlantic can deafen, injure and displace marine animals. The proposed testing could affect thousands of whales and dolphins, according to the companies’ applications.