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U.S. aims to protect marine ecosystems from offshore work

New recommendations target seismic research that surveys reserve potential.

By Daniel J. Graeber
U.S. aims to protect marine ecosystems from offshore work
Federal government proposes new requirements to protect mammalian life offshore from some energy work. Photo by Brett Atkins/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 (UPI) -- The U.S. government said it was offering up new proposals aimed at protecting marine mammals and coastal environments from some offshore energy work.

"The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's recommended approach offers the strongest practicable safeguards in an effort to eliminate or reduce impacts to marine mammals and the environment," said BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper.

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In parts of the Gulf of Mexico, the agency said it was recommending that energy companies conducting seismic surveys to get a better understanding of the reserve potential keep observers on hand to monitor for protected species. Vessels used in the efforts are called on to avoid marine mammals altogether and companies need to find ways to safely start and shut down activity if and when marine mammals are seen in the area.

Advocacy group Oceana has said the sound from seismic research interferes with normal communication patterns those species use. Contractors tied to seismic research for energy companies said the impacts of seismic activity are temporary. If disruptions do occur, the industry said they have little to no significant consequence for marine species.

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Erik Milito, the director of exploration and production for the American Petroleum Institute, said the BOEM's own research found seismic activity had no lasting impact in marine mammals or commercial fishing.

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"Marine life and commercial fishing have thrived in the Gulf of Mexico for more than 30 years while scientists and industry experts have used safe technology without a single case of harm to animals," he said in an emailed statement.

The BOEM said it was taking a practical approach with its recommendations in an effort to reduce or eliminate the impact seismic research had on the offshore environment. The agency said it would wrap up the planning process for the recommendations by September 2017.

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The Gulf of Mexico accounts for about 16 percent of the total oil and 4.5 percent of the total natural gas produced in the United States.

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