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Environmentalists Fear Oil, Gas Exploration Off Eastern Seaboard: Say Marine Life Will Suffer

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First Posted: Jul 20, 2014 10:03 AM EDT
BP Oil Spill
DAUPHIN ISLAND, AL - APRIL 18: A pelican rests on a piling with an oil rig in the background April 18, 2011 in Dauphin Island, Alabama. Dauphin Island's beaches were impacted by oil from the BP oil spill and oiled pelicans became a devastating symbol of the spill's toll. April 20th marks the one-year anniversary of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. (Photo : Mario Tama/Getty Images)

On Friday, the Obama administration approved offshore oil and gas exploration in the Eastern Seaboard as well as seismic surveys with the use of sonic cannons.

Although the approval could mean an increase in job growth for states along the coast and establish a new energy infrastructure in the nation, environmentalists and those who rely on the fishing and tourism industry warn that the sonic cannons are harmful to marine life. According to The Associated Press, the cannons, which reverberate sound waves deep beneath the ocean floor every ten seconds, create a noise much louder than a jet engine.

In an effort to prevent the lifting of a decades-old oil-drilling ban, environmentalists argued that the canons would be detrimental to endangered species.

Walter Cruickshank, acting director of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the agency understands that thousands of marine life would be harmed but argued that its decision was meant to protect the environment while companies search for areas to drill.

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"The bureau's decision reflects a carefully analyzed and balanced approach that will allow us to increase our understanding of potential offshore resources while protecting the human, marine, and coastal environments," Cruickshank said in a statement.

Sonic cannons have already been used in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Alaska and other areas throughout the world. The cannons are attached behind boats and send down reverberating pulses of sound beneath the sea floor, which bounce back to the surface. Computers are able to translate the sounds, using hydrophones, into high resolution, three-dimensional images.

"It's like a sonogram of the Earth," said Andy Radford, an engineer at the American Petroleum Institute. "You can't see the oil and gas, but you can see the structures in the Earth that might hold oil and gas."

The cannons, which were also the center of a debate in California's shores, wreak havoc on whales, dolphins and sea turtles, Al-Jazeera America reported.

According to an environmental impact study by the BOEM, the cannon could harm an estimated 138,000 sea creatures, including "nine of the 500 north Atlantic right whales remaining in the world."

Climatologists also warned that the world's remaining hydrocarbon reserves shouldn't be used or exploited if humanity doesn't want the effects of global warming to increase, U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said.

"We have to stay within a finite, cumulative amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere," Figueres said in April. "We have already used more than half of that budget. Three-quarters of the fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground."

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