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SCIENCE
 

Oil companies to blast in Atlantic whale waters

Pictured is a North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis).
Pictured is a North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis). Georgia Department of Natural Resources /NOAA/MCT

NAGS HEAD, N.C. — Energy companies will soon start looking for oil and gas off the East Coast of the United States. It will be the first time in 30 years. They will start as early as next spring.

The companies use air guns called seismic cannons. They look for oil and gas and are as loud as cannons. They send out blasts every 10 seconds or so. The tests last for weeks at a time.

The guns shoot out sound waves. The waves bounce off rocks and can be studied to make three-dimensional maps. These 3-D maps show where in the rocks under the sea there could be oil and gas.

Government officials and oil companies say these tests are harmless. Bob Edwards disagrees. He is the mayor of Nags Head, a town in North Carolina's Outer Banks. Edwards is worried about what the loud sounds can do to dolphins and whales. The North Atlantic right whale is endangered. Only about 500 are left.

In addition, many sea animals use sound to find food and mates. They also use it to keep track of their young.

People Do Not Agree On Blasting

The government agreed to open an area of the Atlantic Coast from Delaware to Florida for the testing. It said there is no evidence testing harms sea animals.

Leaders in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia want to see how much oil and natural gas lies off the East Coast. They hope that President Barack Obama will allow drilling. They say oil drilling will bring jobs and money to the area.

In coastal towns, not everyone is happy about the idea of drilling for oil.

Nags Head gets much of its money from visitors. The tourists rent homes there for vacations. They relax on its beaches.

Paul Manning owns a cafe on the Outer Banks. He said an oil spill would ruin businesses that need visitors.

Allen Burrus is a grocer in the town of Hatteras, North Carolina. He said drilling would bring money to the Outer Banks. He does not think the animals will be harmed.

Limits On Cannon Blasting

Government officials say they will put limits on when the cannons are fired. There will be limits on testing during whale migration periods. The companies must also have people on the boats looking out for whales. They must stop testing when animals are too close, the officials said.

The tests "should not cause any deaths" if these steps are taken, they said. In addition, they should not hurt animals' hearing.

A group of oil companies said the government is putting too many limits on the tests. It said the seismic blasts are safe.

Many Unanswered Questions

George Ioup is a professor who has studied the effects of the blasts in the Gulf of Mexico. He said there are many unanswered questions. In the Gulf, whales and dolphins tend to hear and communicate at higher sound frequencies than the sound waves from the cannons.

“They probably don’t even hear them very well,” Ioup said.

It is different in the Atlantic, he said. Some Atlantic whales operate at low frequencies. They will hear the cannons. Companies have to be very careful near spawning or feeding areas of those whales, Ioup said.

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1
Anchor 3: People, Events & Ideas

Why do leaders in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia want oil drilling off the East Coast?

A

It could help them control the wildlife population.

B

Oil drilling could bring jobs and money back to the area.

C

More people would visit these states if they were allowed to drill.

D

Drilling could bring more government attention to these areas.

2
Anchor 3: People, Events & Ideas

People are against oil drilling for all of the following reasons EXCEPT:

A

An oil spill would ruin small businesses that need visitors.

B

Drilling could harm wildlife in the area.

C

Towns like Nags Head make most of their money from tourism and drilling could drive visitors away.

D

Seismic blasts are very loud and could upset people who live in these towns.

3
Anchor 4: Word Meaning & Choice

Which of the following sentences contains a word that means the same as "at risk"?

A

The North Atlantic right whale is endangered.

B

In addition, many sea animals use sound to find food and mates.

C

He said an oil spill would ruin businesses that need visitors.

D

A group of oil companies said the government is putting too many limits on the tests.

4
Anchor 4: Word Meaning & Choice

Select the paragraph from the section "People Do Not Agree On Blasting" that contains a word that means "proof."

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