While environmental groups are concerned about the possibility of seismic testing along the Atlantic coast, the federal agency tasked with researching the practice contends it doesn’t have to be as destructive as some claim.

Recently the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has finalized a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) which considered seismic testing along the Atlantic coast from Florida to Delaware in search of oil and natural gas reserves.

Environmental groups such as Oceana and the Surfrider Foundation as well as legislators including Congressman Frank Pallone have voiced concern over seismic testing. Claiming the process would be detrimental to ocean life and would not produce any significant oil or gas reserves when compared to the damage drilling would do to coastal economies.

However Jill Lewandowski , Chief of the Branch of Environmental Consultation at the BOEM noted the PEIS did not authorize any seismic tests to take place but rather allows the federal government to pursue research on the subject.

“What it’s meant to do is take a very hard and transparent look at potential environmental effects if these surveys were to move forward in the mid and south Atlantic. We want to get the big pictures of what could occur and also look at the mitigation measures we can take to reduce or eliminate those effects.”

The PEIS will go out for public comment starting March 7th until April 7th, and will be available for the public to see at the federal register or the BOEM’s website.

Lewandowski understands the public’s concern over the health of marine wildlife, however she said fifty million dollars has been spent in the last fifteen years to analyze how seismic testing affects marine mammals.

“We found the potential for injury or any sort of direct mortality is the greatest when they are directly next to a sound source,” said Lewandowski; adding, during seismic testing in the Gulf of Mexico, a buffer zone is established around the air gun array with an expert monitoring the area.

“And if a marine mammal were to come into that zone, they would call for the immediate shutdown of the air gun array.”

She adds modern seismic tests would include sound detection in the buffer zone.

Though past test showed very moderate amounts of oil and natural gas reserves in the Atlantic Coast, Lewandowski points out those tests were conducted over twenty five years ago and done with now outdated equipment.

“The only way to know what you have there and what can be economically recovered, is to do more surveys.”