Thank you to everyone who submitted comments to the National Marine Fisheries Service and told the federal government why seismic blasting would put our marine mammals at too great a risk.

seismic ship 2

Speaking Out Against Seismic Blasting

The North Carolina Coastal Federation opposes seismic blasting because of its negative effects on fish and marine mammals and the potential barriers they pose to ocean access for recreational and commercial fisheries.

July 21, 2017

On July 20, 2017, Gov. Roy Cooper announced at Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach that he is strongly opposed to offshore oil drilling and seismic blasting. The next day, his office and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) submitted comments to the National Marine Fisheries Service about why they are opposed to seismic blasting because of the harm it would cause to marine mammals.

Read comments submitted by Gov. Cooper and Michael Regan, DEQ secretary.

June 6, 2017

The companies whose permits were denied by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) successfully challenged the denials in May 2017 now that offshore oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic could be back on the table. The federation and other groups tried to intervene earlier in May; the Southern Environmental Law Center had filed a motion on behalf of the groups to try to prevent the companies from challenging. These permits are now pending. The federation continues to advocate against seismic blasting and offshore oil and gas exploration.

On Jan. 6, 2017, BOEM had formally denied the six pending permits for conducting seismic surveys off the Atlantic coast. The bureau cited the potential harm that these surveys might cause to marine life as one of their reasons for denying the permits. It also said the ban on offshore drilling in the Atlantic that the Obama administration announced in December influenced its decision.

As a result of this successful challenge, the National Marine Fisheries Service released a public notice (PN) for comment on seismic surveys on June 6, 2017. The PN describes the process, the potential impacts to marine mammals and provides information on each of the five companies who have applied for permits and potential mitigation of the expected impacts. The North Carolina Coastal Federation is working with a coalition of environmental groups to inform the public of this ill advised action and will continue to oppose oil and gas development off of North Carolina’s coast. Read the PN.

Read a fact sheet on seismic blasting’s effects on marine mammals.

What is a seismic survey?

Seismic surveys, commonly referred to as seismic testing, are the first step in planning for offshore drilling. They involve the use of air guns to send sonic waves toward the ocean floor to gauge the depth, location and structure of oil and gas beneath the surface. Because sound travels faster through water than it does through air, the sound waves would travel thousands of miles through the Atlantic. These surveys are known to disrupt behavior patterns for marine mammals, sea turtles and fish.

Seismic surveys could affect the behaviors of fish.


In March 2016, after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) removed the Atlantic from consideration for offshore drilling for the 2017-2022 planning period, seismic surveys were still on the table. Several different companies had applied for permits to perform these surveys off the Atlantic coast.

The federation and other opponents of seismic surveys were waiting to see if BOEM would issue final permits. It denied the permits, but the companies successfully challenged that denial following the executive order that put offshore oil and gas exploration back into consideration. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had been considering whether or not to issue authorization for seismic survey ships to harm or harass federally protected marine mammals.

pilot whale

Noise from seismic surveys might affect hunting patterns for marine mammals, like these pilot whales.

The BOEM’s 2014 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on seismic surveys noted the negative effects the noise has on marine animals. Some highlights include:

  • Seismic surveys could affect communication and hunting behaviors of more than one million dolphins.
  • An estimated 138,000 protected marine mammals could be harmed because of seismic surveys, including nine of the remaining 500 North Atlantic right whales.
  • According to various scientific research studies, catch rates for several fish species declined in the immediate days following a seismic survey. One study on rockfish showed that hook-and-line catch rates decreased by 52 percent in areas where seismic surveys were occurring.

Despite acknowledging the negative effects of seismic surveys on marine animals, BOEM’s EIS laid out a path for moving forward with the surveys and attempting to mitigate their effects on marine animals. The federation requested in June 2016 that BOEM consider additional scientific evidence that demonstrates the harm noise from seismic surveys causes to fish, scallops and other marine life.

Read more
  • View the information sheet.
  • Gov. Cooper’s and Secretary Regan’s comment letters to the National Marine Fisheries Service (July 2017)
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service’s public notice for comment on seismic surveys in the Atlantic Ocean (June 2017)
  • The federation’s letter to the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council asking for support in its requests of BOEM and NMFS (June 2016)
  • The federation’s comment letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service requesting that it meets with BOEM to discuss the potential risks fish face because of seismic surveys (June 2016)
  • The federation’s comment letter to BOEM on the danger seismic surveys pose to fish (June 2016)
  • The federation’s comment letter on incidental harassment authorization for geophysical surveys in the Atlantic Ocean (August 2015)
  • The federation’s comment letter on seismic surveys (February 2015)
  • Read articles on seismic surveys from Coastal Review Online.