The fisheries office of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries) said Nov. 30 it has authorized five applications from companies wanting to conduct geophysical surveys in the Atlantic Ocean.

The authorizations, which came after the agency reviewed public feedback on the applications, were issued under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to “incidentally, but not intentionally, harass marine mammals to companies proposing to conduct geophysical surveys in support of hydrocarbon exploration in the Atlantic Ocean,” the agency said in a news release.

NOAA Fisheries pointed out that the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is responsible for permitting geophysical surveys and makes decisions about energy development in the waters of the Outer Continental Shelf.

Under the administration of former President Barack Obama in early January 2016, BOEM denied six geological and geophysical permit applications from companies wanting to conduct seismic tests in the Atlantic. President Donald Trump was sworn into office about two weeks later. Amid his push of the America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, the Interior Board of Land Appeals was asked in May 2017 to remand the six application denials under appeal.

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If BOEM approves the permits, following NOAA Fisheries' authorization, it would allow the companies to conduct air gun surveys in the Atlantic for the first time since the 1980s.

Authorization was granted by NOAA Fisheries to CGG, ION GeoVentures, Spectrum Geo Inc., TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Co. and WesternGeco. Each company is required to carry out monitoring, reporting and mitigation measures to reduce the impacts of survey activities on marine mammals. These include requirements for observers onboard geophysical survey vessels to listen and watch for marine life and alert operators if a protected species comes within a certain distance, conduct acoustic monitoring to detect marine mammal vocalizations beneath the ocean surface and shutdown when certain sensitive species or groups are observed.

There are also operational restrictions designed to eliminate or reduce impacts to sensitive species in their preferred habitats and vessel strike avoidance procedures, the release said. Authorizations also require gradual increases of seismic activity to alert animals in the area and reduce potential for exposure to intense noise.