Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Denies Atlantic Seismic Geophysical and Geological Permits
By Connie Gillette, BOEM
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) today announced the denial of six pending geophysical and geological (G&G) permit applications to conduct airgun seismic surveys in the Mid- and South Atlantic Planning Areas of the Atlantic Ocean.
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.”
Additional factors leading to the bureau’s decision 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would not be used, if the Atlantic is not offered for future oil and gas leasing; the acquired data may become outdated if leasing is far in the future; and the probable development of lower impact survey technology before future geophysical and geological information would be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.
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. 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.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) promotes energy independence, environmental protection and economic development through responsible, science-based management of offshore conventional and renewable energy resources. Find them online at www.boem.gov.
In a separate release, the nonprofit Oceana responded to the permit denials:
Oceana Applauds Obama Administration’s Latest Move to Protect East Coast Communities and Economies
Today, the Obama administration formally denied all pending permits to conduct seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean. Seismic airgun blasting, an extremely loud and dangerous process used to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean’s surface, was originally proposed in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida.
This announcement follows several recent historic moves by the Obama administration to decrease America’s dependence on dirty fossil fuels, including the removal of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans from the five year program (from 2017-2022) for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf and the permanent protection of important areas of the Atlantic and Arctic from future offshore drilling.
Oceana applauded the announcement and released the following statement from campaign director Claire Douglass:
“Today, we thank the Obama administration for finishing the job in protecting the Atlantic Ocean from offshore drilling activities.
East Coast communities can finally take a well-deserved sigh of relief knowing that their ocean and economies are currently spared from dangerous seismic airgun blasting.
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.
President Obama and Director Hopper should be revered for their leadership in transitioning the United States away from expanded offshore drilling and toward a cleaner energy economy, including the development of renewable energy sources such as offshore wind.
Over the last few years, Director Hopper and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management have made it a priority to listen to all stakeholders, from the interests of the oil and gas industry to the East Coast fishing and tourism economies.
As of today, more than 120 East Coast municipalities, over 1,200 elected officials, and an alliance representing over 35,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have publicly opposed offshore drilling and/or seismic airgun blasting. These individuals and groups understand that nearly 1.4 million jobs and more than $95 billion in gross domestic product are at risk if dangerous oil activities occur in the Atlantic Ocean.
We know that seismic airgun blasting is dangerous. Seismic airguns create one of the loudest manmade sounds in the ocean, firing intense blasts of compressed air every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks to months on end. The noise from these blasts is so loud that it can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source, which is approximately the distance from Washington, D.C. to Las Vegas.
In addition to being extremely loud, these blasts are of special concern to marine life, including fish, turtles and whales, which depend on sound for communication and survival. Numerous studies demonstrate the negative impacts that seismic airgun noise has on ocean ecosystems, including reduced catch rates of commercially valuable fish and silencing bowhead whales.
The government’s own estimates state that seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic could injure as many as 138,000 marine mammals like dolphins and whales, while disturbing the vital activities of millions more.
In 2015, 75 leading marine scientists sent a letter (PDF) to President Obama on the impacts of seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean, stating that ‘the magnitude of the proposed seismic activity is likely to have significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts on the reproduction and survival of fish and marine mammal populations in the region, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which approximately only 500 remain.’
Today’s decision comes from a visionary president dedicated to preserving the marine environment and furthering a legacy of action against climate change. We applaud the Obama administration for protecting the Atlantic Ocean for generations to come.”
Oceana is the largest international ocean conservation and advocacy organization. Oceana works to protect and restore the world’s oceans through targeted policy campaigns.
The Southern Environmental Law Center had this to say:
Following Overwhelming Opposition from the Atlantic Coast, Seismic Testing Permits Denied
By Sierra Weaver, selcnc.org
Following overwhelming opposition to Atlantic drilling from coastal communities, businesses, and the military, and a recent decision to block expansion of drilling by the Obama administration, the US Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management today denied permits for seismic testing along the East Coast. Seismic airgun blasting—used to survey the ocean floor for oil and gas deposits—has drawn equally intense opposition from coastal communities as it is seen as a prelude to the drilling they’ve rejected.
“Today’s decision by BOEM shows that the U.S. government is listening to coastal residents, businesses, and local governments by halting seismic testing, which is a means to one end: offshore drilling,” said Sierra Weaver, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “There’s absolutely no reason to allow seismic testing, harmful on its own, when the Atlantic coast has overwhelmingly rejected offshore drilling.”
Seismic testing works by firing powerful air guns for days or weeks at a time. The seismic blasts have been known to travel more than a thousand miles through the ocean, potentially disorienting, hurting, deafening, or even killing nearby marine life. Seismic blasts also drive away fish, drastically cutting commercial fishing production. Studies have shown that seismic testing could potentially harm commercial and recreational fishing—central to coastal economies—by decreasing catch rates by as much as 80 percent.
In addition, companies were hoping to conduct seismic testing off the coast of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, the only known calving ground for the highly endangered North Atlantic Right Whale. More than two dozen respected marine biologists recently said when it comes to the right whale, seismic blasting “may well represent a tipping point for the survival of this endangered whale, contributing significantly in a decline towards extinction.”
Seismic testing carries this harm without providing precise information about oil deposits and amounts. To definitively know how much oil is available for drilling, companies need to drill exploratory wells. Exploratory drilling is the riskiest offshore oil activity and what was taking place when the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf occurred, with the harm to that region still unfolding.
“The same concerns that made offshore drilling a bad idea apply to seismic testing—the drop in oil prices, the relatively small amounts of oil and gas believed to be under the Atlantic, and strong local, bipartisan opposition,” said Weaver. “We’re still going to have a fight in front of us to protect our coast from the Trump administration, but this is a great day for the Atlantic.”
The Southern Environmental Law Center is in its 30th year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, Virginia; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; Washington, DC; Birmingham, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; Asheville, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. See more at www.SouthernEnvironment.org.