BOEM and NAS form Committee on Offshore Science and Assessment

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

BOEM and NAS form Committee on Offshore Science and Assessment

In December 2015, the Committee on Offshore Science and Assessment held its inaugural meeting at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The committee, which was established by NAS’s Ocean Studies and Earth Sciences Boards, is sponsored by The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The primary purpose of this new committee is for NAS to assist BOEM by providing ongoing scientific feedback to most effectively manage the nation’s offshore energy resources in a way that is both environmentally and economically sound. The new NAS committee is comprised of 14 scientists and, according to the committee’s statement of task, it has been asked by BOEM to initially focus on the following activities:

  • Convene panels of experts to provide independent, technical input on issues of importance to BOEM’s environmental studies and assessments as well as other programs to be determined.
  • Facilitate stakeholder discussions on controversial issues.
  • Enhance the understanding of science and technology issues related to offshore energy, potentially through the development of a NAS study.
  • Provide a venue for BOEM staff to exchange information with other federal agencies and help BOEM define its unique role in the interagency process.
  • Facilitate the exchange of information and “lessons learned” with staff from other world class applied environmental studies and other assessments in order to help BOEM develop best practice benchmarks.

The meeting featured presentations from several BOEM staff, including its Director, Abigail Hopper. In her presentation, Director Hopper said that the rationale behind forming the committee was to ensure that BOEM has access to the best science. She also outlined the challenge that her agency faces between the economic benefits of a robust offshore oil and gas program while transitioning to a low carbon energy future. In addition, she highlighted BOEM’s top priorities, which include the finalization of its 2017-22 five-year plan (expected to be finalized by the end of 2016) the development of offshore renewable energy resources, air quality management of the outercontinental shelf, and the modernization of risk management at the agency. The other BOEM speakers included the offices of strategic resources and renewable energy, directors from the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, and Pacific regions, and BOEM’s high level science and environmental officers. In their presentations, they discussed their specific agendas and the challenges that BOEM will face moving forward.

At the end of the meeting BOEM staff and NAS representatives discussed how this new committee could be of the most value to BOEM and the science that it uses to make policy decisions. According to William Brown, BOEM’s Chief Environmental Officer, there are some areas where BOEM may not have adequate in-house expertise to address specific scientific issues (he used the science behind how sound impacts marine mammals as a prime example). In addition, the committee could also help BOEM prioritize research areas because its budget for these studies is limited. Although the specifics of projects that the committee might address is still very fluid, likely next steps would include two to three committee meetings per year to address various high level topics that BOEM cannot address alone as well as the development of at least one research study on a high level topic of importance to BOEM’s policymaking process.

AAPG will keep its members informed as BOEM and NAS develop specific activities. The first workshop is expected to be held in early 2016.

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