Opposition grows against geological and geophysical (G&G) surveys in the Atlantic offshore

Controversy about Proposed Seismic Surveys in the Atlantic OCS

Published
American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)
Atlantic spotted dolphins
Atlantic spotted dolphins

Seismic surveys have been conducted for many years in the Gulf of Mexico and around the globe, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has released volumes of research showing the safety of marine seismic surveys. However, some elected officials, concerned local citizens and national environmental organizations are voicing their opposition to seismic in the Atlantic outer continental shelf (OCS). This opposition may be based on concern that the sound generated by airguns will disturb marine mammals or that seismic surveys will facilitate oil and gas development that will negatively affect peoples’ livelihood or damage the environment.

In July 2014, BOEM released its determination to allow seismic surveys in the Atlantic OCS using airguns. These surveys will require strenuous mitigation measures to protect marine animals. This determination followed a lengthy environmental analysis and many public meetings. In addition, BOEM has considered extensive research that finds that seismic surveys have little impact on marine mammals, especially in light of the aggressive mitigation that is required. Surveys are not conducted when marine mammals are active in a particular area, and survey work is immediately stopped if shipboard monitors detect any marine mammals in the area.

After the 2014 decision, several geophysical companies requested permits to conduct Geological and Geophysical (G&G) surveys, including deep-penetration seismic using airguns.

Beginning on March 31 and continuing into April of this year, as part of the permit assessment process BOEM scheduled a series of information meetings in Norfolk, Va., Annapolis, Md., Dover, Del., Wilmington, N.C., Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga.

Additional BOEM and interagency review, including review and approval by coastal zone states under the Coastal Zone Management Act, will take additional, unspecified amounts of time.

Cities, including St. Augustine, Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach in Florida, Carolina Beach and Nags Head in North Carolina, and Bradley Beach and Red Bank in New Jersey, have passed resolutions opposing seismic testing. In addition, 75 marine scientists recently sent a letter opposing seismic testing to President Obama.

In explaining the reason for opposing offshore seismic studies, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) states that whales stopping vocalizing and catches by commercial fishing operations decline near seismic surveys. NRDC recommends development and implementation of less intense sound sources.

Certainly, there are also supporters of Atlantic seismic and the drilling that may follow. In support of the seismic surveys, the American Petroleum Institute notes, “The sound from offshore seismic surveys is comparable to the sound of a sperm whale echolocating for prey and to naturally occurring and other man-made ocean sound sources, including wind and wave action, rain, lightning strikes, marine life, and shipping operations.”

In addition, the governors of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina support offshore seismic and oil and gas development. These governors join those from Gulf of Mexico states and Maine in the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition.

To comment on the proposed surveys, go here.

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