The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has denied six pending geophysical and geological permit applications to conduct airgun seismic surveys in the Mid and South Atlantic Planning Areas of the Atlantic Ocean.
“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.”
Additional factors leading to the bureau’s decision to deny the six permits include the possibility that the information would not be used, if the Atlantic is not offered for future oil and gas leasing; the acquired data may become outdated if leasing is far in the future and the probable development of lower impact survey technology before future geophysical and geological information would be needed.
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.
NOIA Slams Denial
In response, National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi said: “In yet another ‘black Friday’ announcement targeting the offshore oil and natural gas industry, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) blanket denial of seismic survey permits is an unsurprising attempt to put another nail in the coffin of sensible energy exploration in the Atlantic. Not only does this decision conflict with BOEM’s own scientific conclusion that seismic surveys are environmentally safe, it is self-fulfilling rhetoric, basing its reasoning on President Obama’s recent withdrawal of 3.8 million acres in the north and mid-Atlantic Ocean.
“Most of the seismic data for the Atlantic outer continental shelf is more than three decades old, and with this decision BOEM seems determined to make sure it remains that way, keeping Americans in the dark for the foreseeable future about the true potential of valuable offshore oil and gas resources that belong to us all.
“The only thing left to say is that January 20th cannot come soon enough. We look forward to working constructively with the incoming Administration to better understand the true potential of our vast offshore resources, including in the Atlantic.”
API: Disregard for Energy Security
API Director of Upstream and Industry Operations Erik Milito said: “Today’s decision to deny permits to conduct seismic surveys in the Atlantic is the latest example of this administration completely disregarding America’s energy security needs and contradicts the will of the majority of Americans who support increased production of oil and natural gas,” said Milito.
“It’s clear that this is a politically driven decision that flies in the face of the best available science. As BOEM has reiterated a number of times previously, seismic surveys are a safe, efficient and scientifically proven way to find potential new sources of energy.
“Additionally this is a decision that, at its core, denies the opportunity for private industry to conduct scientific, geologic research that will be used by academia, government and industry alike for important educational and research purposes. We are hopeful the incoming administration will reverse this short-sighted course and base its decisions on facts so that we can have a forward-looking energy policy to help keep energy affordable for American consumers and businesses, help create jobs, and strengthen our national security.”