Policy News

Feds: Seismic Surveys in Gulf of Mexico Harm or Harass Marine Species

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has released a draft environmental impact statement that concludes seismic surveys for oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico would cause significant harm to marine mammals.

The long-awaited review comes in response to a court-ordered settlement of a lawsuit brought by environmental groups.

The analysis finds that as many as 31.9 million marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico will be injured and harassed by oil and gas seismic surveys. This includes 80 percent of the Gulf’s endangered sperm whale population, estimated at 763 animals. Sperm whales will experience as many as 760,000 harassing exposures to airgun blasting over the next decade.

The draft estimates that seismic blasting would cause as many as 588 injuries to the Gulf’s Bryde’s whales—of which only 33 individuals remain—or about 17 times for each member of this imperiled population. The report estimates that oil and gas seismic surveys will harm whales and dolphins with as many as 4.3 million instances of injury, including permanent hearing loss.

The draft report outlines possible mitigation measures, including closure areas where seismic blasting would be banned, and reductions in the amount of activity permissible each year. The environmental review is open to public comment for 60 days. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit compelling the environmental review include NRDC, the Center for Biological Diversity, Gulf Restoration Network and Sierra Club, and are represented by Earthjustice.

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