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Interior Department re-evaluating seismic testing applications

Energy
Ashley Heffernan
  • Ashley Heffernan
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The U.S. Department of the Interior will resume evaluating permit applications for seismic testing, a precursor to offshore oil and gas drilling, in the Atlantic Ocean, which reverses a decision made by the Obama administration.

In January, in the final weeks of President Barack Obama’s term, the department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management denied the applications of six companies that were looking to conduct air gun seismic surveys in the mid- and south Atlantic Ocean. The predrilling test method uses sound waves directed at the ocean floor to create images of the subsurface that oil and gas companies use to determine the best places to drill.

Opponents of seismic testing say it is harmful to ocean wildlife, and many S.C. municipalities, including Charleston, voted to oppose offshore drilling. More than 50 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including Reps. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., and James Clyburn, D-S.C., also sent a letter (.pdf) to Obama last year asking him not to allow seismic testing off the Atlantic coast.

Supporters say the possible economic impact of high-paying jobs associated with the oil and gas industry could outweigh potential environmental risks.

Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the BOEM to develop a new five-year program for offshore oil and gas exploration.

The Department of Interior announced Wednesday that the six previously denied applications will be evaluated again to determine if they will individually be approved or denied.

“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,” Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in a news release. “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 last time seismic data was gathered from the mid- and south Atlantic was more than 30 years ago, according to the news release.

“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 news release said.

The Outer Continental Shelf off the mid- and south Atlantic coast could contain 90 billion barrels of undiscovered oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered gas, the news release said.

Reach Ashley Heffernan at 843-849-3144.

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