Measurement and Testing

Are Seismic Surveys Dangerous?

Mar 21 2018 Read 438 Times

With the world's oil and gas supplies dwindling, developers are looking at new ways to pinpoint fresh reserves. Over the past decade seismic surveys have emerged as a fast and efficient way to detect resources. However, oceanographer warn that the powerful sonic booms could pose a serious risk to marine life.

From whales to dolphins, a host of marine animals use sound to communicate underwater. As well as relaying and responding to messages, clicks and short pulses of sound are used to detect objects underwater. This is called echolocation and plays an important role in helping marine mammals hunt down food.

Painting an underwater picture of oil and gas reserves

With Trump on the brink of opening the Atlantic Coast to oil and gas companies, some experts are warning that the impact on marine life could be devastating. There are currently five companies applying for permits that would allow them to use seismic air guns to survey thousands of miles of the Atlantic seabed. As ships trawl the coast airguns are towed behind while actively compressing and releasing air. This creates an explosion which forces sound waves down to penetrate the seabed. They're then bounced back to the ship's receivers and used to paint a picture of any oil and gas reserves that sit beneath the seabed.

Explosions pose a serious risk to marine life, warn oceanographers

The explosions will be some of the loudest sounds ever heard in the ocean and could disrupt everything from blue whales to tiny plankton. Not only will they cause fear and confusion, but the sonic booms could damage the ears and internal organs of marine animals.

"We don't know what happens if animals are exposed constantly to sound over long periods of time in, say, a feeding area or a breeding area or what not," explains Aaron Thode, an oceanographer for the Marine Mammal Commission. He stresses that beyond physical damage, the underwater explosions could cause whales to abandon breeding patterns, desert feeding grounds and muddle up migration.

Fears blasts could "mask" marine communication

One of the biggest concerns is that ongoing explosions could "mask" marine animal communication altogether. Basically, Thode warns that if ships are blasting multiple times a minute for several months at a time, the animals could simply give up. "At some point, you know, just as if a jet plane passes overhead, you just give up and wait for the sound to decrease," says Thode.

Marine experts like Doug Nowacek assert that without communication, it will be all too easy for mothers to lose track of their calves.

"If they get separated by a few tens or hundreds of meters in an increasingly loud ocean," he explains, "you can consider it gone."

Marine animals aren't the only ones at risk, with other critics warning that exposure to benzene is having a negative impact on human health. With commentary from Steve Billingham, CEO of Duvas Technologies, 'From Crude Oil to Cigarettes – Benzene, the Hidden Killer' explores the importance of monitoring benzene levels and tightening legislative control.

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