In accordance with Secretarial Order 3350, which implements President Trump’s America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, the Department of the Interior announced on May 10, it will move forward to resume its evaluation of applications from six companies seeking permits to conduct geological and geophysical (G&G) activities in the Atlantic Ocean in order to resume their evaluation, upon the grant of the remand by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA).
“Seismic surveying helps a variety of federal and state partners better understand our nation’s offshore areas, including locating offshore hazards, siting of wind turbines, as well as offshore energy development,” said Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Allowing this scientific pursuit enables us to safely identify and evaluate resources that belong to the American people. This will play an important role in the President’s strategy to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign energy resources.”
The last G&G seismic data for the Mid- and South- Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OSC) were gathered more than 30 years ago when technology was not as advanced as today. Aside from providing data on potential offshore oil and gas resources, seismic surveys are also used to site offshore wind structures, locate potential seafloor hazards, locate potential sand and gravel resources for beach replenishment activities, and locate potential archaeological resources. Data from seismic surveys also assists the Department in determining Fair Market Value of offshore resources.
Today’s action reverses a decision by the previous administration that ordered the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to deny the permit applications. That decision underestimated the benefits of obtaining updated G&G information and ignored the conclusions of BOEM’s Atlantic G&G Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision, which showed that no significant impacts are expected to occur as a result of these seismic surveys. Following the denial of the permit applications, the six companies filed appeals with the IBLA to have their applications reinstated. Today, BOEM Acting Director Walter D. Cruickshank asked the IBLA to remand the six Atlantic G&G Permit Application denials under appeal. The remand would not approve the permits, but would allow BOEM to resume its evaluation to determine whether they will individually be approved or denied.
Seismic surveys are not expected to have significant impacts on marine mammal populations or the environment given the use of advanced technology and other safeguards that are currently required. BOEM currently employs mitigation measures and safeguards to reduce or eliminate impacts to marine life while setting a path forward for appropriate G&G survey activities off the Mid- and South Atlantic coast to update data on the region’s offshore resources.
“BOEM’s mission is to manage the development of our nation’s offshore resources in an environmentally and economically responsible way,” said BOEM’s acting director Dr. Walter Cruickshank. “We will continue to keep the public informed as we renew our efforts to evaluate these permits.”
While the Atlantic was removed from consideration for oil and gas leasing and development in the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, President Trump last month directed the Department of the Interior and BOEM to begin development of a new national program, and the information gained from possible seismic surveys in the Atlantic will help inform future decision-making.
Zinke’s Secretarial Order 3350 implements President Trump’s Executive Order on the America-First Offshore Energy Strategy and directs BOEM to develop a new five-year program for oil and gas exploration in offshore waters and reconsider a number of regulations governing those activities.
Since 1998, BOEM has invested over $50 million on protected species and noise-related research, including marine mammals. It has also convened workshops for acoustic experts to help identify questions for future research.
BOEM estimates that the U.S. OCS contains about 90 billion barrels of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered technically recoverable gas. Production from all OCS leases provided 550 million barrels of oil and 1.25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in FY2016, accounting for 72 percent of the oil and 27 percent of the natural gas produced on federal lands and offshore areas.
Energy production and development of new projects on the U.S. OCS supported an estimated 315,000 direct, indirect, and induced jobs in FY2016 and generated $2.8 billion in total revenue that was distributed to the Federal Treasury, state governments, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the Historic Preservation Fund.