The U.S. Department of Interior has announced it will move forward on its evaluation of applications from six companies seeking to explore the Atlantic Ocean.
The move is in accordance with Secretarial Order 3350, which implements President Donal Trump’s America-First Offshore Energy Strategy. However, the Department was quick to say that the move wasn't all about oil and gas.
“The last seismic data for the Mid- and South- Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OSC) were gathered more than 30 years ago when technology was not as advanced as today. Aside from providing data on potential offshore oil and gas resources, seismic surveys are also used to site offshore wind structures, locate potential seafloor hazards, locate potential sand and gravel resources for beach replenishment activities and locate potential archaeological resources. Data from seismic surveys also assists the Department in determining Fair Market Value of offshore resources.”
The action reverses a decision by the previous administration that ordered the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to deny the permit applications. Following the denial of the permit applications, the six companies filed appeals.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke says that decision underestimated the benefits of obtaining updated geophysical information and ignored BOEM conclusions that no significant impacts are expected to occur as a result of these seismic surveys.
The seismic surveys are not expected to have significant impacts on marine mammal populations or the environment given the use of advanced technology and other safeguards that are currently required. Since 1998, BOEM has invested over $50 million on protected species and noise-related research, including marine mammals. It has also convened workshops for acoustic experts to help identify questions for future research.
While the Atlantic was removed from consideration for oil and gas leasing and development in the 2017-2022 OCS oil and gas leasing program, Trump last month directed the Department of the Interior and BOEM to begin development of a new national program, and the information gained from possible seismic surveys in the Atlantic is expected to help inform future decision-making.
Zinke’s Secretarial Order 3350 implements President Trump’s Executive Order on the America-First Offshore Energy Strategy and directs BOEM to develop a new five-year program for oil and gas exploration in offshore waters and reconsider a number of regulations governing those activities.
BOEM estimates that the U.S. OCS contains about 90 billion barrels of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered technically recoverable gas. Production from all OCS leases provided 550 million barrels of oil and 1.25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in FY2016, accounting for 72 percent of the oil and 27 percent of the natural gas produced on federal lands and offshore areas.
Energy production and development of new projects on the U.S. OCS supported an estimated 315,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs in FY2016 and generated $2.8 billion in total revenue that was distributed to the Federal Treasury, state governments, the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Historic Preservation Fund.
National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) President Randall Luthi said: “NOIA applauds Interior’s decision to reverse the Obama administration’s premature blanket denial of six Atlantic OCS seismic survey permit applications. The decision allows the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to complete its review of the permit applications in an objective manner without the artificial deadline of the end of an Administration.
“The offshore oil and gas industry has safely conducted seismic surveys in the U.S. and around the world for decades to assess the location and size of potential offshore oil and natural gas deposits. There has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from these surveys adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities.”