White House approves sonic cannons for Atlantic energy exploration

BY Talia Mindich  July 18, 2014 at 6:11 PM EST

 The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has estimated that more than 138,000 sea creatures, including the North Atlantic right whale, could be harmed by the use of sonic cannons. Photo by Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has estimated that more than 138,000 sea creatures, including the North Atlantic right whale, could be harmed by the use of sonic cannons. Photo by Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

The Obama administration opened the way to gas and oil exploration off the U.S. Atlantic coast by giving final approval Friday to the use of sonic cannons that can pinpoint energy deposits beneath the ocean floor.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates that drilling for natural gas off the Eastern Seaboard could generate thousands of jobs, but has also acknowledged that the process will harm sea creatures.

Sonic cannons, which fire sound waves 100 times louder than a jet engine, pose dangers for marine life that communicate by sound. Whales and dolphins, for example, depend on echolocation to feed and communicate with their family groups.

“We don’t know what the physiological effects are,” said Grant Gilmore, fish ecology expert in Vero Beach, Fla. “It could be permanent hearing damage in many of these creatures just by one encounter with a high-energy signal.”

The decision cleared the outer continental shelf from Delaware to Florida for exploration by energy companies. This is the first time that the U.S. Atlantic coast will be open to oil and gas exploration since the 1980s.