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US revives requests for Atlantic seismic surveys

10 May 2017 22:46 (+01:00 GMT)
US revives requests for Atlantic seismic surveys

Washington, 10 May (Argus) — President Donald Trump's administration plans to resume considering requests to conduct seismic surveys in the Atlantic ocean in a first step to opening the area to oil and gas exploration.

The move reverses the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's BOEM to deny all six seismic applications about two weeks before former president Barack Obama left office. US interior secretary Ryan Zinke said the seismic surveys would contribute toward Trump's energy policy goals.

"Allowing this scientific pursuit enables us to safely identify and evaluate resources that belong to the American people," Zinke said today. "This will play an important role in the president's strategy to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign energy resources."

TGS, GX Technology, WesternGeco, CGG Services, Spectrum Geo, PGS and TDI-Brooks International had submitted applications in 2014 to conduct seismic surveys in the Atlantic. But BOEM ultimately found the potential risks of the surveys to marine life outweighed the benefits, particularly because the Obama administration canceled earlier plans to open the Atlantic to leasing.

Those surveying companies had all appealed the permit denials. BOEM's acting director Walter Cruickshank today asked the appeal board to remand those denial decisions, which will allow the agency to resume its consideration of the applications. BOEM would still have to approve the applications before surveys could begin.

BOEM in 2014 estimated that the federal waters in Atlantic could hold 4.7bn bl of technically recoverable oil and 37.5 Tcf of technically recoverable natural gas. But the last seismic survey in the ocean was conducted in 1988, creating significant uncertainty about the accuracy of those estimates.

Seismic surveys use powerful airguns to produce seismic waves that bounce off the seafloor and generate data on potential hydrocarbon-bearing formations. Oil and gas producers would likely need up-to-date seismic data before bidding on offshore leases the Trump administration might make available to industry as part of a new five-year offshore leasing plan.

Environmental groups have opposed seismic surveys because of their potential harm to marine life and the possibility they could lead to oil and gas exploration. Oceana said seismic surveys were an "extremely loud and dangerous process" that should not be allowed in the Atlantic and could injure marine mammals.