Though the federal government removed the Atlantic Ocean from its proposed five-year plan for oil and natural gas leasing, offshore seismic testing for fossil fuels will continue as planned.
“We still have permit requests for seismic testing and will continue to process them,” Connie Gillette, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, told the Outer Banks Sentinel.
Richie Miller, the president of permit applicant Spectrum GEO Inc., told the Sentinel that his company “is working forward with commencing our survey this summer off the East Coast.”
“There is still great interest from the oil and gas industry in better understanding the geology and prospectively of the East Coast, regardless of the cancellation of the 2021 lease sale,” Miller added.
Seismic testing involves a vessel towing multiple seismic air gun arrays, which emit loud blasts of compressed air through the ocean and miles under the ocean floor every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, to search for natural oil and gas deposits. It is a key step in determining whether offshore energy drilling is feasible and it is controversial because of concerns about harm to marine life.
The news distressed Wally Overman, vice chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners. “This is going to have potentially devastating consequences for our commercial fishermen,” he told the Sentinel. “You’ll have forty or fifty miles of ocean where they can’t fish. And this is prime [seismic testing] territory where our guys fish.”
Claire Douglass, the director of Oceana’s Climate and Energy Campaign, said the group’s representatives are meeting with congressional leaders to “look for ways to stop the seismic testing permitting process from moving forward.”
Oceana was among the environmental groups that led the opposition to offshore drilling in the Atlantic.
Several companies — including Spectrum Geo Inc., TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company, ION Geo Ventures and TDI-Brooks International — are seeking permits from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that would allow them to harm or harass endangered species while conducting the seismic tests.
Draft permits could be issued within the next month, the Sentinel reported. A 30-day comment period will follow. NOAA will then consider the public comments for one to three months and then forward the applications to BOEM for final approval. After that approval, seismic testing could begin at any time.