The US Department of the Interior (DOI) is moving forward with its evaluations from six companies to conduct geological and geophysical (G&G) activities in the Atlantic Ocean, as part of the Trump Administration’s "America First" offshore energy strategy.
Image from BOEM.
The announcement came today (10 May), upon the grant of the remand by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA).
“Seismic surveying helps a variety of federal and state partners better understand our nation’s offshore areas, including locating offshore hazards, siting of wind turbines, as well as offshore energy development,” says Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Allowing this scientific pursuit enables us to safely identify and evaluate resources that belong to the American people. This will play an important role in the President’s strategy to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign energy resources.”
Today’s move from the DOI overturns the Obama administration’s decision, which ordered the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to deny the permit applications.
DOI says that decision underestimated the benefits of obtaining updated G&G information and ignored the conclusions of BOEM’s Atlantic G&G Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision, which showed that no significant impacts are expected to occur as a result of these seismic surveys. Following the denial of the permit applications, the six companies filed appeals with the IBLA to have their applications reinstated.
Today, BOEM Acting Director Walter D. Cruickshank asked the IBLA to remand the six Atlantic G&G Permit Application denials under appeal. The remand would not approve the permits, but would allow BOEM to resume its evaluation to determine whether they will individually be approved or denied.
While the Atlantic was removed from consideration for oil and gas leasing and development in the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas leasing program, President Trump last month directed the DOI and BOEM to begin development of a new national program, and the information gained from possible seismic surveys in the Atlantic will help inform future decision-making.
BOEM estimates that the US OCS contains about 90 billion bbl of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and 327 Tcf of undiscovered technically recoverable gas. Production from all OCS leases provided 550 MMbbl and 1.25 Tcf of natural gas in FY2016, accounting for 72% of the oil and 27% of the natural gas produced on federal lands and offshore areas.
Industry associations cheered today's move by the Trump administration.
“Existing resource estimates for the Atlantic OCS are based on data collected from seismic surveys conducted more than 30 years ago. As the Trump administration moves forward in developing a new five-year program for offshore oil and gas exploration, new surveys using modern technology are vital to providing an up-to-date and scientifically accurate picture of the offshore oil and gas resources off our Atlantic seaboard," says NOIA (National Ocean Industries Association) President Randall Luthi.
The IAGC (International Association of Geophysical Contractors), which represents member companies including PGS, TGS, CGG, WesternGeco, GXT/ION and Spectrum, also applauded the news, saying the ruling showed the Trump administration's commitment to "science over politics."
“This administration's forward-thinking and rational decision making is refreshing, and we appreciate the recognition that the acquisition of G&G data for the US Atlantic OCS is essential to the long-term energy planning in an area for which existing data is outdated by more than 30 years," said IAGC President Nikki Martin. “Offshore seismic surveys have a long history of providing an accurate assessment of our nation’s oil and natural gas resources in an environmentally safe manner, critical to informing an effective national energy strategy and future OCS leasing decisions and plans.”