Obama Administration Denies Permits for Seismic Surveys to Seek Oil in Atlantic

The Obama administration last week denied all pending permit applications to conduct seismic surveys to locate oil and natural gas in the Mid- and South Planning Areas of the Atlantic Ocean, including off the New Jersey coast. U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.) applauded the decision, as did environmental groups such as the New Jersey Sierra Club.

According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, its decision to reject the six pending geophysical and geological permit applications “is based on a number of factors, including a diminished need for additional seismic survey information because the Atlantic Program Area has been removed from the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.”

Last March, Obama declared Atlantic waters off limits for oil and gas leasing for the next five years. Then, in December, the president took steps to permanently ban offshore drilling in deep water canyons from Virginia to New England.

“In the present circumstances and guided by an abundance of caution, we believe that the value of obtaining the geophysical and geological information from new airgun seismic surveys in the Atlantic does not outweigh the potential risks of those surveys’ acoustic pulse impacts on marine life,” said BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper. “Since federal waters in the Mid- and South Atlantic have been removed from leasing consideration for the next five years, there is no immediate need for these surveys.”

As BOEM also noted, “This decision only impacts the six permit applications for the use of airgun seismic surveys that were proposed for oil and gas exploration deep beneath the ocean floor. The goal of geological and geophysical surveys is to produce maps or models that indicate the earth’s geography, stratigraphy, rock distribution and geological structure delineation. Deep penetration seismic surveys are conducted by vessels towing an array of airguns that emit acoustic energy pulses into the seafloor over long durations and large areas. Seismic airguns can penetrate several thousand meters beneath the seafloor. Surveys for other, shallow depth purposes typically do not use airguns. While surveys may have some impacts to marine life, airgun seismic surveys have the potential for greater impacts.”

Many coastal state lawmakers and conservationists oppose seismic studies, as they worry the acoustic pulses may cause disruption or harm to marine life. The possible damaging effects of offshore drilling are also a major concern for those on the coast.

“By stopping seismic testing off our coast, we are preventing oil and gas companies from getting data that they can use to drill off of our coast.,” noted Jeff Tittel, director of the N.J. Sierra Club. “Any potential drilling is a threat to New Jersey beaches.”

The announcement by the BOEM, part of the Interior Department, “sends a clear signal that the Atlantic must remain free from harmful oil and gas production,” said Booker.

As Menendez added, “Today we achieved a great victory not only for our environment, but for New Jersey’s shore economy. Seismic airgun testing poses a serious threat to fish populations, profitable fisheries and marine life. That is why I have long championed permanently banning this procedure, and will again be introducing legislation to do so in the coming year.”

Last April, the two senators introduced the Atlantic Seismic Airgun Protection Act, which would permanently prohibit seismic exploration on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf.

Lobbying group National Ocean Industries Association reacted much differently to the news of the permit denials. As NOIA President Randall Luthi stated, “The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s blanket denial of seismic survey permits is an unsurprising attempt to put another nail in the coffin of sensible energy exploration in the Atlantic.

“This decision … ignores the fact that seismic and other geophysical surveys have been safely conducted offshore in the U.S. and around the world for more than 50 years. What’s more, the decision dismisses BOEM’s own finding that there has been no documented scientific evidence of seismic surveys harming marine mammals or the environment.”

According to its website, NOIA is a national trade association “representing all segments of the offshore industry, with an interest in the exploration and production of both traditional and renewable energy resources on the nation’s outer continental shelf.”

The N.J. Sierra Club, though, believes the current administration recognizes the threats of seismic testing and offshore drilling. As Tittel stated, the organization wants to see renewable energy job growth “while protecting our $30 billion coastal and fishing industries.”

“Instead of putting our coast and economies at risk of being polluted by an oil spill ,we should be investing in renewable energy. We have to explore new technologies for wind and wave power and remove obstacles that stand in the way of clean energy.”

– Reposted from The Sandpaper