Obama Issues Another ‘Black Friday’ Decision To Restrict Offshore Drilling

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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The Obama administration won’t allow energy companies to conduct deep seismic testing off the Atlantic Coast, arguing there’s no point in allowing it in offshore areas regulators have made off-limits.

“Since federal waters in the Mid and South Atlantic have been removed from leasing consideration for the next five years, there is no immediate need for these surveys,” Abigail Ross Hopper, the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), said in a statement.

The offshore energy industry, however, is calling it a “black Friday” decision that contradicts the government’s own science on airgun seismic surveys.

“The only thing left to say is that January 20th cannot come soon enough,” National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi said in a statement.

“We look forward to working constructively with the incoming Administration to better understand the true potential of our vast offshore resources, including in the Atlantic,” Luthi said.

It’s the latest in a series of recent decisions by the Obama administration to lock up offshore oil and gas resources in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

The Department of the Interior removed Atlantic lease sales from its five-year offshore drilling plan in March, taking away the chance for oil companies to bid on up to 104 million acres of ocean in 2021.

President Barack Obama then issued an executive order making 31 canyons in the Atlantic off limits to oil and gas drilling in December. Obama cited authority under a 1953 law to make 3.8 million acres of the Atlantic “permanently” off-limits to drilling.

BOEM is following up on those decisions, and refusing to six applications to conduct deep seismic surveys in the Atlantic.

Deep, or airgun, seismic surveys are conducted using boats towing airguns that shoot acoustic pulses through the ocean floor. Companies use such surveys to map out oil and gas resources beneath the seafloor.

BOEM says airgun seismic surveys “can penetrate several thousand meters beneath the seafloor” and “have the potential for greater impacts” than just to marine life.

“In the present circumstances and guided by an abundance of caution, we believe that the value of obtaining the geophysical and geological information from new airgun seismic surveys in the Atlantic does not outweigh the potential risks of those surveys’ acoustic pulse impacts on marine life,” Ross Hopper said.

The Atlantic saw dozens of offshore test wells drilled from 1947 to the early 1980s, but none of them were completed as producing wells. The Atlantic was largely abandoned after laws and executive orders made the area off-limits to drilling in the 1980s.

Since it’s been awhile since any drilling has taken place, seismic surveys of the Atlantic are more than three decades old. Energy companies want to at least have updated maps of potential reserves in the region.

“Not only does this decision conflict with BOEM’s own scientific conclusion that seismic surveys are environmentally safe, it is self-fulfilling rhetoric, basing its reasoning on President Obama’s recent withdrawal of 3.8 million acres in the north and mid-Atlantic Ocean,” said Luthi.

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