WASHINGTON, D.C. and HOUSTON – The 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 planning areas of the Atlantic Ocean.
The bureau said that the decision 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.
“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.”
International Association of Geophysical Contractors President Nikki Martin, National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi, and API Director of Upstream and Industry Operations Erik Milito all responded swiftly via statements to decry the decision.
Martin said it “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.”
Luthi said: “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.”
Milito said the announcement was the latest example of the current 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.”
The BOEM said that additional factors leading to the denials 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would not be used if the Atlantic is not offered for future oil and gas leasing; the acquired data may become outdated if leasing is far in the future; and the probable development of lower impact survey technology before future geophysical and geological information would be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.
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.
“Surveys for other, shallow depth purposes typically do not use airguns,” the BOEM said in a statement. “While surveys may have some impacts to marine life, airgun seismic surveys have the potential for greater impacts.”
Martin, Luthi, and Milito dispute these claims, with all believing the BOEM’s decision to be contradictory to its own previous findings.
“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,” Martin said. “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.”
“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,” Luthi said.
“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,” he later continued.
“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,” Milito said.
A statement from Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the US Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, echoed Martin, Luthi, and Milito in its emphasis that the Obama administration was acting against the best interests of the geophysical and geological market.
“The Obama administration’s trampling on America’s energy resources hit warp speed today when they denied harmless seismic studies of oil and gas resources in the Atlantic,” Harbert said. “Hiding the resource potential from the American public demonstrates the lengths this administration will go to bow to special interests and how afraid they are of revealing the truth of America’s energy bounty.”
“Seismic surveys proposed for the Atlantic would provide policy makers a greater understanding of the resources available offshore,” Martin said. “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.”
“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.
Martin, Luthi, and Milito all closed their respective statements by expressing that they were looking forward to working with the incoming administration.