The Bureau of Land Management on Friday released a proposal to begin a seismic survey in December that would look for underground signs of oil reserves over more than half a million acres on the east side of the refuge’s coastal plain. The Bureau said it would accept public comments on the plan, which was proposed by an Alaska Native village corporation, for 14 days before deciding whether to issue a permit.
In June 2017, NOAA Fisheries published proposed whale protections for the surveys. By winter the division’s biologists saw a problem: The protections for the North Atlantic right whale were too weak and put airguns in their direct path.
The agency had proposed a seasonal ban on using airguns up to 47 kilometers (about 29 miles) from shore between November and April, when the whales were known to migrate and give birth along the mid- and south-Atlantic coast.
But peer-reviewed research led by a NOAA Fisheries analyst concluded the whales were traveling farther from shore than ever before — and directly into the path of the proposed survey activity. A draft report for the Navy reached a similar conclusion.
Seismic blasting used in oil exploration can reach 250 decibels and be heard for miles. It can cause hearing loss, disorientation and disturb essential marine mammal behaviors such as feeding and breeding. Just over 300 Cook Inlet beluga whales are left after four more washed up dead in Cook Inlet in the past two weeks.
For decades, the U.S. military routinely dumped thousands of tons of obsolete, excess and captured munitions into U.S. coastal waters, thinking the high seas were the best place for the materials to safely decompose. The Atomic Energy Commission likewise oversaw the ocean dumping of untold thousands of drums of low-level radioactive waste from the nation’s manufacturing, research, medical and military sectors.