DoI reverses decision to discard US Atlantic margin seismic permit applications

The US Department of the Interior will resume its evaluation of applications from six companies seeking permits to conduct geological and geophysical activities in the Atlantic Ocean, upon the grant of the remand by the Interior Board of Land Appeals.

Offshore staff

WASHINGTON, D.C.– The US Department of the Interior (DoI) will resume its evaluation of applications from six companies seeking permits to conduct geological and geophysical activities in the Atlantic Ocean, upon the grant of the remand by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA). 

The DoI said the decision was in accordance withSecretarial Order 3350, which implements President Donald Trump’s America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.

The action reverses a January 2017 decision by the previous administration that ordered the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to deny the permit applications, which occurred in February.

The government has waffled on E&P activity in the area. A 2014 record of decision opened an environmental review of G&G activities off the US Atlantic coast. In June 2016, US Representatives Mark Sanford (R-SC) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) sent a joint letter signed by 53 other members of the US House of Representatives to then-US President Barack Obama requesting ahalt to the permitting process. Then, in November 2016, the area was remitted entirely from the 2016 outer continental shelf oil and gas leasing program

“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. “Allowing this scientific pursuit enables us to safely identify and evaluate resources that belong to the American people. This will play an important role in the president’s strategy to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign energy resources.”

The DoI continued by reiterating the previous arguments from industries bodies such as theInternational Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC) and theNational Ocean Industries Association (NOIA): 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. Aside from providing data on potential offshore oil and gas resources, seismic surveys are also used to site offshore wind structures, locate potential seafloor hazards, locate potential sand and gravel resources for beach replenishment activities, and locate potential archaeological resources. Data from seismic surveys also assists the DoI in determining Fair Market Value of offshore resources.

“That decision underestimated the benefits of obtaining updated G&G information and ignored the conclusions of BOEM’s Atlantic G&G Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision, which showed that no significant impacts are expected to occur as a result of these seismic surveys,” the DoI said in a statement.

Following the denial of the permit applications, the six companies filed appeals with the IBLA to have their applications reinstated. Today, BOEM Acting Director Dr. 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.

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 statement said. 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.

“BOEM’s mission is to manage the development of our nation’s offshore resources in an environmentally and economically responsible way,” said Cruickshank. “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, 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.

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.

Industry response

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 and geophysical permits for the mid- and south-Atlantic planning areas. Today’s action to correct the course for sound US energy policy demonstrates this administration’s commitment to science over politics and to lawful procedures over rhetoric.”

Martin called the January 2017 decision to rescind the permitting process “unprecedented and shortsighted …disregarding the rule of law and ignoring the BOEM’s own environmental impact analyses and conclusions.”

She also pointed out that some of the permits were filed as long as nine years ago.

“This administration’s forward-thinking and rational decision making is refreshing, and we appreciate the recognition that the acquisition of G&G data for the US Atlantic OCS is essential to the long-term energy planning in an area for which existing data is outdated by more than 30 years,” 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.”

NOIA President Randall Luthi also expressed the support of his organization. “NOIA applauds Interior’s decision to reverse the Obama administration’s premature blanket denial of six Atlantic outer continental shelf seismic survey permit applications. The decision allows the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to complete its review of the permit applications in an objective manner without the artificial deadline of the end of an administration.

“Existing resource estimates for the Atlantic OCS are based on data collected from seismic surveys conducted more than 30 years ago. As the Trump administration moves forward in developing a new five-year program for offshore oil and gas exploration, new surveys using modern technology are vital to providing an up-to-date and scientifically accurate picture of the offshore oil and gas resources off our Atlantic seaboard.

“Theoffshore oil and gas industry has safely conducted seismic surveys in the US and around the world for decades to assess the location and size of potential offshore oil and natural gas deposits. There has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from these surveys adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities.”


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