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Obama Approves Oil Search Along East Coast

Jul 18, 2014 12:20 PM EDT

For the first time in decades, the Eastern Seaboard is being offered up as a site for offshore oil exploration, as the Obama administration on Friday approved the use of sonic cannons to discover deposits under the ocean floor, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Sound waves 100 times louder than a jet engine will echo throughout ocean waters inhabited by a plethora of marine animals, including endangered whales and sea turtles.

Despite the risk of harming such underwater creatures, the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved this technology as a first step toward identifying new oil and gas deposits in federal waters from Florida to Delaware.

The sonic cannons will be towed behind boats and emit strong pulses of sound about every 10 seconds or so, reverberating beneath the sea floor and bouncing back to the surface, where they are measured by hydrophones. Advanced computers then translate the data into high resolution, three-dimensional images.

"It's like a sonogram of the earth," Andy Radford, a petroleum engineer at the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas trade association in Washington, D.C., told the AP. "You can't see the oil and gas, but you can see the structures in the earth that might hold oil and gas."

These strident sounds are to fired constantly over a period of weeks or months, depending on how long the project takes, posing real dangers to whales, fish and sea turtles that also use sound to communicate across hundreds of miles. The US government estimates that more than 138,000 sea creatures could be harmed in the process.

The north Atlantic right whale is of particular concern, a population that numbers only around 500. Since their numbers are so few, any impact from this intense noise pollution on feeding or communications could have long-term effects, according to Scott Kraus, a right whale expert at the John H. Prescott Marine Laboratory in Boston.

Just a few weeks ago, New Jersey environmentalists concerned about marine life in the area were seeking a court order to halt research plans to blast the ocean floor with sounds waves. They not only were worried about the well-being of animals such as whales, dolphins and turtles, but another main concern of theirs was that the study would open the doors to oil drilling off the East Coast.

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