While some EU Member States already had imposed that environmental impact assessments (EIAs) need to be undertaken prior to the employment of seismic air guns, other EU Member States had not done so. Seismic air guns are being used for surveys looking for hydrocarbon sources in the marine environment.

E.g. when a Norwegian company surveyed the Croatian part of the Adriatic Sea between September 2013 and January 2014, air gun explosions with up to 240 dB were emitted every 10 to 15 seconds towards the sea floor, impacting wildlife in all directions. However, the Croatian government had not demanded an EIA prior to these activities. This will never happen again.

In a recent answer to a parliamentary question, Karmenu Vella, the current EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, concludes that while air guns used for prospection at sea are not forbidden, environmental impact assessments have to be carried out. Vella furthermore concludes that both the Habiats Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive have to be respected and serve as essential tools in promoting biodiversity and achieving good environmental states.

Vella’s conclusions come in response to a company’s attempt to gain approval to use air cannons to prospect oil under the sea in Italy. His response, however, is valid for all exploration activities in the EU. Leaning on the provisions provided in both directives, Vella highlights the necessity of conducting environmental impact assessments in order to avoid environmental damages and to protect habitats and species.

OceanCare together with our partner organisation NRDC has campaigned for years to make EIAs mandatory prior to seismic surveys.