A decision by the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to deny six pending geophysical and geological (G&G) permit applications for airgun seismic surveys in the Mid- and South Atlantic Planning Areas of the Atlantic Ocean has caused uproar in the industry.
Image from The White House Flickr.
The denial is due to several factors, however BOEM highlighted that there is a diminished need for additional seismic survey information due to the Atlantic Program Area being removed from the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program.
“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.”
BOEM’s further reasons 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would not be used, if the Atlantic is not offered for future oil and gas leasing; the acquired data may become outdated if leasing is far in the future; and the probable development of lower impact survey technology before future geophysical and geological information would be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.
BOEM said that its 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,” BOEM said.
The International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC) has decried BOEM’s decision, calling it “short-sighted” and an “11th hour” political move.
“Today’s announcement from BOEM denying the permits for Atlantic G&G permits demonstrates the Administration’s continued lack of accountability to the American people. It is also one of many recent and rushed attempts to cater to extreme environmentalists in the last days of the Administration, substituting politics for science,” IACG President Nikki Martin said in a statement.
“Further, today’s unprecedented denial contradicts what BOEM has repeatedly stated: that there is no scientific evidence that sound from seismic survey activity impacts marine life, nor does it harm the environment. Rather, it appears the White House directed BOEM to refute the best available science in favor of a precautionary approach with no basis in US law.”
Seismic surveys proposed for the Atlantic would provide policy makers a greater understanding of the resources available offshore. A short-sighted decision to preclude these surveys flies in the face of long-term energy development policy, the national security, and the economic wellbeing of the entire nation. As the US and the world look to meet the growing energy demand, today’s announcement certainly does not take that into account, the IAGC said.
“Today’s decision makes it all the more pertinent that the incoming Trump Administration works to undo the Obama Administration’s failed energy policies, including today’s unprecedented decision. We look forward to working with the new Administration and Congress,” Martin concluded.
The National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) also slammed BOEM’s decision.
“In yet another ‘black Friday’ announcement targeting the offshore oil and natural gas industry, BOEM'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,” NOIA President Randall Luthi said. “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.”
“This decision continues the Obama Administration’s dismissal of scientifically-backed offshore policies and ignores the fact that seismic and other geophysical surveys have been safely conducted offshore in the US 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,” Luthi said.
“Most of the seismic data for the Atlantic OCS 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,” Luthi said.
“The only thing left to say is that 20 January 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,” Luthi concluded.
American Petroleum Institute (API) Director of Upstream and Industry Operations Erik Milito said that BOEM’s decision 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.
“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,” said Milito. “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.”