Seismic air gun testing along the Atlantic Coast could see federal approval, much to the dismay of environmental groups.

(Toniann Antonelli, Townsquare Media, NJ)

The Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has finalized the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, which looked at several proposals for seismic exploration for oil and gas in the South and mid-Atlantic Ocean, and had received criticism from environmentalists and legislators for potentially threatening marine life.

Seismic air guns are used to find gas and oil below the floor of the ocean. According to, a group of ocean conservationists, the guns "are towed behind ships and shoot loud blasts of compressed air through the water and miles into the seabed, which reflect back information about buried oil and gas deposits."

Environmentalists believe the sound can be harmful or disturbing to marine life.

The recommended option would advance seismic surveys through 2020 and must avoid striking vessels and migratory patterns of the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, as well as have Passive Acoustic Monitoring to monitor marine mammal life.

However, in a press release, the Surfrider Foundation claimed seismic testing would still "cause catastrophic impacts to the marine ecosystem, including injury and death to hundreds of thousands of whales and dolphins."

John Weber, Surfrider Foundation Mid-Atlantic regional manager, said there have been instances of similar seismic testing resulting in major marine deaths.

"There are dolphin die-offs and whale die-offs," Weber said. "A lot of time it's the Navy who's sending these same sonic blasts."

The amount of oil and natural gas in the Atlantic is important to the oil industry. According to the Miami Herald, federal estimates from the 1970s and '80s find 3.3 billion barrels of oil.

Weber said whatever potential oil reserves are present aren't worth the damage to the shore line of states from Florida to Delaware. Any potential spills or hazards could easily drift state lines, he added.

"Ocean and environmental groups are making the case that the shore economy is way too precious to risk an oil spill, so let's not even bother," Weber said.