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A New Bipartisan Bill Would Protect Marine Life From a Deadly Offshore Drilling Practice

With the Trump administration set to re-open the the Atlantic coast region to offshore drilling, a bipartisan team of lawmakers aims to block seismic airgun blasting.

On Thursday, a bipartisan team of legislators introduced a bill to block permits along the Atlantic coast for seismic airgun blasting—an ecologically disastrous practice in which petroleum companies use sonic pulses to identify oil and gas beneath the seabed. The Atlantic Seismic Airgun Protection Act is co-sponsored by Congressman Don Beyer (D-Virginia) and Representative Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey).

Seismic airgun blasts can be harmful to fish, sea turtles, and marine mammals, causing beach strandings and hearing loss, the latter of which can spell death for whales and dolphins that rely on hearing to find food, according to Oceana, a non-profit advocacy group. Speaking to National Geographic in 2014, Oceana scientist Matthew Huelsenbeck compared the blasts to “dynamite going off in your living room or in your backyard every 10 seconds for days to weeks at a time.”

In late 2016, the Obama administration permanently blocked oil and gas leases on some 3.8 million acres of seafloor along the Atlantic coast, shortly after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a block on offshore drilling in much of the Atlantic through 2022. In one of the final moves of his presidency, Barack Obama denied all pending permits for seismic airgun blasting in January.

But the Trump administration is expected to re-open the region to offshore drilling (making seismic blasting more likely) with an executive order tomorrow—a move that the new bill’s co-sponsors say will be ecologically and economically harmful.

“The seismic pulses from airgun blasts threaten the aquatic species many coastal communities depend on,” Beyer said in a statement. “Marine life and ocean biodiversity are essential not only to coastal environments, but to local and regional tourism, recreation, and fishing industries.”