Days after withdrawing the mid-Atlantic from offshore oil and gas planning, the Obama administration denied six pending permits for offshore seismic surveys.
“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,” BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said in announcing the decision Friday.
“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,” Hopper said.
The denial fulfills a major goal of anti-drilling and environmental activists, who sought to block the geophysical and geological (G&G) permits as a strategy for heading off development of oil and gas leases off Virginia and other East Coast states. Using airguns for acoustic probing below the sea floor is a critical step toward producing stratigraphic maps of deep rock structures that may offer oil and gas.
“With offshore drilling off the table for the near future, there was absolutely no reason to risk the damage that would be caused by seismic airgun blasting in the region,” said Claire Douglass, campaign director for the group Oceana.
Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said most seismic data for the Atlantic outer continental shelf (OCS) is more than thirty years old. BOEM, he said, is “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.”
“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 U.S. and around the world for more than 50 years,” 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.”
In justifying their decision, BOEM officials pointed to the likely years-long delay before any future leasing plan might bring back the Mid-Atlantic areas. In the meantime, they cited that “acquired data may become outdated if leasing is far in the future; and the probable development of lower impact survey technology before future geophysical and geological information would be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.”