WASHINGTON – The Obama administration on Friday formally denied all pending permits to conduct seismic exploration for oil and natural gas deposits in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had six seismic testing permits for Atlantic offshore waters that were awaiting approval.
BOEM said the decision was based on several factors, including a diminished need for additional seismic survey information because the administration in December removed the Atlantic and Arctic oceans from the five-year leasing program, from 2017-2022, for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf.
“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.”
BOEM said other factors leading to the decision included the possibility that the information would not be used if the Atlantic is not offered for future oil and gas leasing and that the acquired data may become outdated if leasing is far in the future. BOEM also cited the probable development of less environmentally harmful survey technology before future exploration would be needed.
The action was applauded by opponents of offshore drilling and seismic testing, who had cited risks to marine life and to the economy of tourism-dependent coastal communities.
“Today, we thank the Obama administration for finishing the job in protecting the Atlantic Ocean from offshore drilling activities,” said opposition campaign director Claire Douglass of the ocean conservation group Oceana.
The Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, a group of business interests up and down the East Coast, including chambers of commerce, restaurant associations, commercial fishing groups and real estate organizations, also applauded the action.
“Seismic testing is a dangerous, old technology that would dramatically harm our marine life and thus threatening our local tourism and commercial fishing economies,” said Frank Knapp, co-founder of the alliance. “This important decision will buy us time to educate the next administration about the Atlantic Coast business community overwhelming opposition to offshore drilling.”
The decision only affects the six permit applications for the use of airgun seismic surveys that were proposed for oil and gas exploration deep below the ocean floor. Surveys for other, shallow-depth purposes typically do not use airguns.