The Obama administration has approved the use of sonic cannons to explore for oil and gas off the Eastern Shore.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Friday formally approved guidelines for using air cannons in the Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Delaware.
Energy companies could buy new oil and gas leases and begin drilling in 2018 if they find profitable reserves.
The guidelines are meant to protect endangered whales and other creatures from the loud noises and increased vessel traffic, but the government's environmental impact study estimates that more than 138,000 sea creatures could be harmed.
The decision opens an area of the Eastern Seaboard larger than two Californias to exploration for the first time in decades.