Plans to use an array of powerful air cannons in an undersea seismic study near a Central California nuclear power plant have federal and state officials juggling concerns over marine life with public safety.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. wants to use big air guns to emit strong sound waves into a large, near-shore area that includes parts of marine reserves to make three-dimensional maps of fault zones, some of which were discovered in 2008, near its Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.
But a state study, mandated by AB1632, signed into law in 2006, found the project is likely to have "unavoidable adverse effects" on marine life and the environment. Biologists, environmental groups and fishermen have opposed using the high-energy air guns, saying the blasts have potential to harm endangered whales, California sea otters and other creatures frequenting these waters.
"I am very concerned about impacts to marine mammals, especially some of the large whales including blue, fin, and humpback whales," said John Calambokidis, an Olympia, Wash.-based marine biologist who has studied Pacific Ocean whales for decades. "There are many uncertainties on the impact of this type of operation on whales, especially since we have not seen this type of large air gun survey off California for a long time."