Move comes after Trump Administration re-opens offshore drilling
On the heels of its April 28 decision to re-start offshore oil and gas drilling leasing in areas including the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic, the Trump Administration announced on May 10 that it is moving forward with the permitting process for seismic testing in the Atlantic waters.
A statement from the Department of Interior quoted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke saying that, “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. Allowing this scientific pursuit enables us to safely identify and evaluate resources that belong to the American people.”
The move is likely to generate harsh criticism from the same environmental activists and Outer Banks leaders who spoke out against the April 28 decision on drilling leases.
Seismic testing, which is a key step in determining whether offshore energy drilling is feasible, involves using multiple seismic air gun arrays which emit loud blasts of compressed air through the ocean to search for natural oil and gas deposits. Critics argue that air blasting process is harmful to marine life, while the Department of Interior counters that it should not have “significant impacts on marine mammal populations.”
The new policy on seismic testing reverses a Jan. 6, 2017 decision by the outgoing Obama Administration denying the six pending permits to conduct seismic surveys in the Mid- and South-Atlantic Ocean. The Interior Department now says it will “resume its evaluations” of those six applications.
That prompted a statement from Nikki Martin, President of The International Association of Geophysical Contractors, lauding the Trump Administration for its “forward thinking and rational decision making” on seismic testing. “We and our members look forward to the timely and lawful processing of these permits, some of which were filed as long as nine years ago.”
It likely came as no surprise to many observers that seismic testing permitting was re-started after the recent decision to resurrect the offshore drilling process. That overturned Obama Administration policies ruling out offshore drilling leases in the Atlantic Ocean for the 2017-2022 period and permanently banning drilling in some portions of the Atlantic — although the waters of North Carolina were not included in the permanent ban.
And even as they lauded those decisions from the previous White House, some advocates foresaw a tough fight ahead.
"Obviously this is great news for now,” Outer Banks Surfrider Foundation official Matt Walker told the Sentinel after the seismic testing permits were denied in January. “But the issue's not over by any means. We anticipate the new administration will be vigorously pursuing Atlantic drilling, so we need all Outer Bankers of every political stripe to continue protecting our coastal resources and the industries they support."