This story was updated on Sept. 29.
The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released a draft programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS), which recommends stronger protections for marine mammals and environments in the Gulf of Mexico from potential impacts from oil and gas geophysical surveys.
The draft PEIS was a condition of a federal court settlement between BOEM and the Natural Resources Defense Council and other plaintiffs earlier this year, the agency said on Sept. 28. Comments will be accepted for 60 days following its scheduled Federal Register publication on Sept. 30. BOEM also scheduled five public meetings on the draft PEIS along the Gulf Coast beginning Nov. 9 in New Orleans.
Officials from oil and gas organizations quickly responded. “Seismic testing has been safely used in the US and around the world for decades to locate potential new sources of energy, and we will be reviewing the PEIS in the coming weeks,” American Petroleum Institute Upstream Director Erik Milito said on Sept. 28.
“Marine life and commercial fishing have thrived in the Gulf of Mexico for more than 30 years while scientists and industry experts have used safe technology without a single case of harm to animals,” Milito said.
The International Association of Geophysical Contractors also is evaluating the draft PEIS “to ensure BOEM’s framework for permitting seismic exploration and suggested mitigation measures are proportionate to the level of risk of potential impacts to marine life, based on sound science and within [the US Department of the Interior agency’s] existing legal framework,” IAGC Pres. Nikki Martin said on Sept. 29.
IAGC supports science- and risk-based regulations that are consistent with existing practices that are proven to be effective and operationally feasible, she noted in an e-mail to OGJ. “We also appreciate the agencies moving forward with implementing a regulatory structure so G&G activities may continue uninterrupted in the future,” Martin said.
A National Ocean Industries Association spokeswoman observed that the gulf is the primary source of the nation’s offshore energy production, and seismic testing is crucial to locating oil and gas resources there.
“Seismic testing has been safely conducted for decades around the world and in the Gulf of Mexico where rich tourism and fishing industries coexist with and thrive alongside offshore oil and natural gas development,” she said on Sept. 29. “We are currently reviewing the draft programmatic EIS and look forward to providing BOEM with constructive feedback.”
BOEM said the draft PEIS evaluates potential environmental impacts of G&G surveys on marine mammals, fish, corals, and other environmentally sensitive species in the seabed and water column of the GOM’s Outer Continental Shelf.
G&G activities addressed by the draft include deep-penetration and high-resolution seismic surveys, electromagnetic surveys, magnetic surveys, gravity surveys, remote-sensing surveys and geological and geochemical sampling, it said.
BOEM said it is the lead agency on this draft PEIS, with the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) as cooperating agencies. The PEIS, which the agency hopes to complete by September 2017, will support both BOEM’s G&G permitting and NMFS’s Marine Mammal Protection Act decision-making for oil- and gas-related G&G activities.
In addition to the one in New Orleans on Nov. 9, BOEM will hold public meetings about the draft on Nov. 10 in Gulfport, Miss.; Nov. 14 in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.; Nov. 15 in Mobile, Ala.; and Nov. 17 in Houston.
Contact Nick Snow at firstname.lastname@example.org.