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Trump's push for Atlantic drilling takes shape as environmentalists push back

The Trump administration pushed forward with its plan to allow oil and gas drilling off the East Coast with a request for public comments on its proposal to allow small numbers of marine mammals to be unintentionally harmed in testing for energy reserves.

The request by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is a step toward seismic surveys, which would ultimately be authorized by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Five companies have applied for permission to conduct the surveys, which are needed to estimate the size and location of any oil and natural gas resources offshore in the Atlantic.

NOAA is recommending several measures to reduce the harm to marine life, including having observers aboard the survey ships to shut down testing around habitats and migration paths if vulnerable marine life, such as whales and dolphins, is present.

Those mitigation measures are woefully insufficient to protect the Atlantic Coast's marine life and fishing and tourism industries, said the environmental activists at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "This is a big step towards drilling off the East Coast," said Michael Jasny, director of the group's mammal protection project. On a conference call, he accused the Trump administration of using "fake science" to justify what previous administrations had deemed unnecessary.

The "filthy and accident-prone oil and gas industry" does not need access to prime fisheries while the world is glutted with oil, South Carolina seafood company owner Rick Baumann added on the call. "There's proven reserves on land."

NOAA's action comes after the Trump administration announced that it would reconsider seismic permits denied by the Obama administration as unnecessary when it placed the Atlantic off limits to oil and gas drilling in the administration's waning days.

Oil and gas producers have expressed reluctance to bid on any leases off the Atlantic coast because little data is available on oil and gas resources and locations. Offshore seismic testing usually involves shooting high-pressure air guns into sea floor and recording the returning sound vibrations for further analysis using computers onshore. With authorization from NOAA, the permits could be granted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, but NOAA officials on June 5 had no estimate of how long it would be before air guns would be popping in the Atlantic.

The surveys would be conducted from Delaware Bay south to Florida.