Trump overturns Obama’s Atlantic seismic permits denial

U.S. President Donald Trump has reversed a decision by the previous administration that denied permit applications for seismic surveying of the U.S. Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf. 

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) on Wednesday announced it would 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.

According to the department, 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.

The department’s action reverses a decision by the previous administration that ordered the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in early January to deny the permit applications citing a diminished need for additional seismic survey following the removal of the Atlantic Program Area from the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

Following the denial of the permit applications, the six companies filed appeals with the IBLA to have their applications reinstated. On Wednesday, 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.

The department emphasized that 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. The department also added that 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.

Cruickshank added: “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, the DOI said.

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.

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.


IAGC hails DOI’s decision


The International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC), a trade body which represents all segments of the geophysical industry, hailed DOI’s decision to rescind Atlantic permit application denials.

IAGC President, Nikki Martin, said: “On behalf of the IAGC and its member companies, including PGS, TGS, CGG, WesternGeco, GXT/ION and Spectrum, we commend the Department of the Interior for rescinding its previous decision to deny six applications for oil and gas exploration geological & geophysical (G&G) permits for the Mid- and South-Atlantic Planning areas.”

Martin also added: “We and our members look forward to the timely and lawful processing of these permits, some of which were filed as long as nine years ago.”

Regarding the surveys, Martin said: “Offshore seismic surveys have a long history of providing an accurate assessment of our nation’s oil and natural gas resources in an environmentally safe manner, critical to informing an effective national energy strategy and future OCS leasing decisions and plans.”

Offshore Energy Today Staff

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