Seismic testing for offshore drilling is far from harmless:
The National Science Foundation safely conducted a 2D seismic survey off the coast of North Carolina last fall. Interestingly, this study did not receive the attention that the proposed studies have generated, despite the fact that they used the same technology that is proposed for oil and gas seismic data collection. The N.C. Divisions of Coastal Management and Marine Fisheries did not receive any reports of disturbances or injury to marine wildlife and are unaware of any adverse impacts resulting from those surveying activities.
That is consistent with observations made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in May 2015, which found no evidence that serious injury, death or stranding by marine mammals can occur from exposure to air gun pulses, even in the case of large air gun arrays. Sadly, some political groups masquerading as environmental organizations have chosen to ignore these realities.
Bolding mine. Not only is that an asinine statement, it's ironic as hell coming from a political appointee who has attacked Roy Cooper for not opposing the EPA's Clean Power Plan. Van der Vaart is proving to be even more of a demagogue than his predecessor, and that's saying a helluva lot. I don't need to tell you that, but I do need to throw some actual science into the discussion. Due to their environment, ocean fauna rely on sound more than any other sense to survive and procreate:
Marine mammals (cetaceans and pinnipeds) produce sounds that are used for communication, orientation and navigation, and foraging. Sounds range from the 10 Hz low-frequency calls of blue whales to the ultrasonic clicks of more than 200 kHz in certain offshore dolphins 33. Source levels of click sounds used by sperm whales in navigation and foraging can be as high as 235 dB re 1μPa peak-to-peak
34. Baleen whales use low frequency sound for long distance communication 35 over hundreds of kilometres 36 37. Most toothed whales (odontocetes) emit three main types of sounds; tonal whistles, short duration pulsed sounds used for echolocation and less distinct pulsed sounds such as cries, grunts or barks 38. Odontocete echolocation clicks are highly directional forward projecting pulsed sounds of high intensity and frequency. Some species of seal produce strong underwater sounds that may propagate for great distances 39. Many marine fish species produce sound for communication
40. The low frequency sounds created by fish can make a significant contribution to ambient noise 41. Fish can produce sounds as individuals, but also in choruses 42 and the increase in low frequency noise can be as much as 20-30 dB in the presence of chorusing fishes 43. The dominant source of ambient noise in tropical and sub-tropical waters are snapping shrimp, which can increase ambient noise levels by 20 dB in the mid frequency band 44. In addition to shrimp a number of other invertebrates contribute to ambient reef noise, including squid 45, crabs 46, lobsters 47 and urchins 48.
Almost all marine vertebrates rely to some extent on sound for a wide range of biological functions, including the detection of predators and prey, communication and navigation 59 60. Marine mammals use sound as a primary means for underwater communication and sensing 61. They emit sound to communicate about the presence of danger, food, a conspecific or other animal, and also about their own position, identity, and reproductive or territorial status 62. Underwater sound is especially important for odontocete cetaceans that have developed sophisticated echolocation systems to detect, localise and characterise underwater objects 63, for example, in relation to coordinated movement between conspecifics and feeding behaviour.
In summary, the ability to create and detect sound is life-critical for many ocean inhabitants, whether they range far or live their entire lives in an acre or two of sea floor. Anthropogenic noise from various activities like shipping and recreation has risen substantially over the decades, and already presents a serious threat to many species. But seismic airguns are a whole new level of threat:
The power of air-gun arrays has generally increased during the past decades, as exploration has moved into deeper waters. The nominal source level of an air-gun array can reach up to 260-262 dB (p-p) re 1 μPa @ 1m 125. Sound signals from seismic air-gun surveys can be received thousands of kilometres away from the source if spread in a sound channel. Autonomous acoustic seafloor recording systems on the central mid-Atlantic Ridge showed year-round recordings of air-gun pulses from seismic surveys conducted more than 3000 km away 126.
That's roughly 2,000 miles, almost the distance from Raleigh to Tucson, Arizona. For anybody, much less the top environmental regulator in the state, to say that level of sound is "harmless" to sea life, is patently ludicrous. The man should be removed from his position and sent back to 8th grade science class.