Feds ban airgun testing for oil and gas
Feds ban airgun testing for oil and gas
The feds denied six permits for controrsial seismic testing for oil and gas in the South Atlantic. By Jim Waymer. Posted Jan. 6, 2017.
Federal regulators denied six pending permits for using high-powered airguns to scan the ocean floor for signs of oil and gas deposits from Florida to Delaware.
The permits were no longer needed because the federal government removed those waters from the list of areas available to be leased for oil and gas exploration between 2017 and 2022, according to a release Friday from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
The use of airgun seismic surveys would have generated maps or models of rock distributions and other geological structures to show potential for oil and gas deposits. But conservation groups worried that the seismic testing could harm marine life.
BOEM's decision to deny the six permits include the likelihood the information wouldn't be used if the federal government does not offer the Atlantic for future oil and gas leasing. The agency also pointed out that even if the area is opened to drilling in the future, the information gathered now could become outdated.
The deep-penetration seismic surveys are conducted by vessels that tow an array of airguns that emit acoustic energy pulses into the seafloor over large areas and long periods of time, according to BOEM. The airguns penetrate several thousand meters beneath the seafloor.
Conservation groups worry the airguns could harm whales, dolphins and other marine life.
"Numerous studies demonstrate the negative impacts that seismic airgun noise has on ocean ecosystems, including reduced catch rates of commercially valuable fish and silencing bowhead whales," the nonprofit group Oceana said in a press release. "The government's own estimates state that seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic could injure as many as 138,000 marine mammals like dolphins and whales, while disturbing the vital activities of millions more."
Shallow-depth surveys for other purposes typically don't use airguns. While surveys may have some impacts to marine life, airgun seismic surveys have the potential for greater impacts, BOEM officials said.
More than 120 East Coast municipalities, 1,200 elected officials, 35,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have publicly opposed offshore drilling and/or seismic airgun blasting, according to Oceana, which has fought against the seismic testing.
“Today, we thank the Obama administration for finishing the job in protecting the Atlantic Ocean from offshore drilling activities," Oceana campaign director Claire Douglass said in a prepared statement. "East Coast communities can finally take a well-deserved sigh of relief knowing that their ocean and economies are currently spared from dangerous seismic airgun blasting."
The pending permits from oil or gas exploration spanned from Delaware to Florida.
The ban does not include Atlantic waters off Florida and would not affect current oil and gas leases, but aims to stop indefinitely the sale of new leases in an area of the Atlantic stretching from about Rhode Island to southern Maryland — and in the Arctic's Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska.
Obama designated 31 Atlantic canyons along the Continental Shelf off limits to oil and gas exploration and development "due to their critical and irreplaceable ecological value." The withdrawn area totals 5,990 square miles (or 3.8 million acres). The measure would protect deep-sea coral, fish habitat and other marine life, administration officials said.
"With offshore drilling off the table for the near future, there was absolutely no reason to risk the damage that would be caused by seismic airgun blasting in the region," Douglass said.
Contact Waymer at 321-242-3663 or jwaymer@floridatoday.com Follow him on Twitter @JWayEnviro or www.facebook.com/jim.waymer