The Trump administration has been making moves to push for more oil and natural gas drilling off the Atlantic after granting companies permission to use seismic airgun blasts to hunt for fossil fuels buried in the sea floor. As a handful of scientific studies have shown, this could be absolutely terrible news for dolphins, whales, and all other marine life living off the Atlantic coast.

On Friday, the NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service dished out five licenses to conduct seismic testing off the Atlantic coast for a period of one year. Requests for this activity were previously rejected during the final few weeks of the Obama administration in January 2017. Further permits need to be obtained before any action happens. However, if the momentum continues, it looks like it might finally be game on for seismic testing in the Atlantic. 

“This is a license for private, for-profit companies to maim and even kill fragile marine life,” Michael Jasny, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Marine Mammal Protection Project, said in a statement. “And it’s the first step in exploiting the ocean treasures we all own—all in a reckless quest for more fossil fuels that speed up climate change.” 

The controversial technique uses a specialized air gun to blast the seafloor every 10 seconds for weeks and weeks at a time. The blasts are so powerful, they can travel through the sea for thousands of kilometers and penetrate deeply into the seafloor. By analyzing the rebounding signal that bounces back from the blast, scientists are able to work out what’s going on beneath the surface and detect the presence of oil or natural gas.

Quite obviously, this is terrible for marine life, whether its colossal endangered whales or microscopic plankton. A study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution last year, found that seismic surveys caused “significant mortality to zooplankton populations” over a wide area. This is fairly daunting because these tiny creatures are the basis of most marine food chains. Furthermore, a 2014 survey by the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management argued that seismic surveys in the Atlantic would disturb at least 100,000 whales and dolphins, in addition to thousands of manatees, seals, and sea turtles.

“Seismic airgun surveys pose a dual threat to the biologically rich waters off the Atlantic coast,” Steve Mashuda, Managing Attorney for Oceans at Earthjustice, said in a statement. “Their continuous blasts can injure and deafen whales, dolphins and other marine life, and they are the sonic harbingers of even greater risks associated with eventual offshore oil and gas drilling. We are looking at all available tools to fight this unlawful action.”