Posted July 18, 2014
The federal decision to take the next step on developing a good portion of the oil and natural gas likely to be found on the Atlantic outer continental shelf (OCS) – at least 4.7 billion barrels of oil and 37.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – is good, welcome and certainly significant in the effort to increase access to U.S. energy reserves.
Giving the OK for safe seismic surveying in waters from the southern tip of New Jersey to roughly the midpoint of Florida, off Cape Canaveral, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is clearing the way for data collection that would inform the OCS leasing and development that’s critical to America’s energy needs. BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruickshank:
“After thoroughly reviewing the analysis, coordinating with Federal agencies and considering extensive public input, the bureau has identified a path forward that addresses the need to update the nearly four-decade-old data in the region while protecting marine life and cultural sites. The bureau’s decision reflects a carefully analyzed and balanced approach that will allow us to increase our understanding of potential offshore resources while protecting the human, marine, and coastal environment.”
As we say, a good development that ultimately could lead to more domestic oil and natural gas in support of America’s ongoing energy revolution, greater U.S. energy security, the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs and positive economic growth into the next two decades. In short, opening the path to the Atlantic OCS is one of the keys to America’s energy future, which needs to be followed by similar decisions to study and explore other OCS reserves. Erik Milito, API upstream group director:
“Offshore energy exploration and production in the Atlantic could bring new jobs and higher revenues to states and local communities, while adding to our country’s capabilities as an energy superpower. Now that the decision to issue permits has been made, we urge the administration to move quickly so that surveying operations can begin next spring.”
Let’s hope BOEM’s decision leads to sound data collection (click here for a video showing how seismic surveying works), exploration and development in the Atlantic OCS – as well as other offshore areas under federal control, 87 percent of which remains off limits to development. Let’s also hope rules for Atlantic OCS seismic testing issued with BOEM’s decision don’t hinder surveying, which would stunt development before it begins. Milito:
“We remain concerned by the lack of scientific support for certain requirements the administration wants to impose on seismic surveys in the Atlantic. Operators already take great care to protect wildlife, and the best science and decades of experience prove that there is no danger to marine mammal populations.”
Let’s develop that point. While BOEM’s intent is to “gather state-of-the-practice data about the ocean bottom and subsurface,” its rules could test the bounds of practical feasibility. API and other organizations pointed out potential difficulties in the rules when they were put up for public comment earlier this year.
A couple of examples. BOEM’s rules require shutting down seismic surveying operations if a dolphin enters the area being tested – unless the dolphin is observed approaching the surveying vessel voluntarily. API:
We are aware of no mitigation measures applicable to offshore exploration activities in which an observer is required to subjectively determine the intent of a marine mammal. Determining marine mammal intent from great distances is very difficult for experienced marine mammal biologists in staged scientific experiments, let alone for observers who will be attempting to determine dolphin intent over vast distances in the ocean environment. Based on observation reports, PSOs (Protected Species Observers) will be unable to confidently assess animal behavior or “intentions” because they cannot accurately determine species within the expanded exclusion zone. The result is that observers will likely, out of caution, call for shutdowns in almost all instances where dolphins are observed within the exclusion zone.
The organizations also note that in areas of high-density dolphin populations, such as the Atlantic, shutdown requirements for a “species that enjoys bow-riding and approaching vessels could effectively bring all seismic activity to a halt.”
Another example comes from the rule governing sea turtles, requiring a 60-minute shutdown if one is sighted in the testing zone. API noted that the rules don’t:
… meaningfully address the fact that sea turtles are much more difficult to observe than marine mammals. Sea turtles can be reasonably observed at distances of 100 meters to 300 meters from a vessel, but it is very unlikely that sea turtles can be reliably observed at greater distances. … In addition, if a sea turtle is observed within the exclusion zone (triggering a shutdown of airguns), assuming the vessel is moving at 3 to 5 knots, the observed turtle will be outside of the exclusion zone within approximately 15 minutes because sea turtles swim very slowly compared to marine mammals. In such circumstances, a 60-minute “all clear” requirement would plainly be unnecessary (setting aside the fact that it is unnecessary in all circumstances).
More on sea turtles:
Because turtles are difficult to observe at distances greater than 300 meters, application of the exclusion zone shutdown to sea turtles is infeasible and will very likely result in unwarranted shutdowns because observers, acting out of precaution, will call for shutdowns when anything resembling a sea turtle is observed.
“Restrictions that have no scientific basis can easily discourage exploration, private investment and job creation. Regulators should rely only on sound science when setting permit requirements.”
As we say, BOEM’s decision to open part of the Atlantic OCS to seismic surveying is welcome and significant. America needs the energy that can be found off its shores, and industry is ready to begin turning that vast potential into reality. All caveats aside, America’s energy future just got a little brighter.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.