Commentary: Seismic surveys play significant role in offshore drilling
By Andy Radford
A decisive majority of American voters – 80 percent – support increased production of U.S. oil and natural gas, including 94 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Independents and 71 percent of Democrats. Voters associate energy production with job creation, economic growth, energy security and lower energy costs, polling also shows.
And they’re right. Thanks to the stabilizing effect of America’s world-leading oil and natural gas production, drivers saved more than $550 in fuel costs last year while average household budgets were $1,337 more flush due to utility cost decreases and other savings. Manufacturers are saving, too. With industrial electricity costs 30 to 50 percent lower than foreign competitors, U.S. companies enjoy a valuable competitive advantage that translates to manufacturing job growth. That’s in addition to the direct economic boost energy development brings to countless local economies across the nation.
The American energy revolution is bringing real economic relief to families and businesses, and offshore energy exploration is indispensable to maintaining it. Production in the Gulf of Mexico generated over 16 percent of U.S. oil and 4.5 percent of U.S. natural gas in 2015, creating jobs throughout the region and making a significant contribution to American energy security.
It all starts with the exploration process, which advanced seismic survey technology has revolutionized, safely and efficiently uncovering new oil and natural gas resources. For instance, the Minerals Management Service estimated 9.57 billion barrels of recoverable oil resources in the Gulf of Mexico in 1987. By 2011, advances in seismic surveying and other technology helped increase that estimate to 48.4 billion barrels of oil — a fivefold jump.
Like an ultrasound, seismic surveying technology releases compressed air into water to create sound waves that reflect back to the surface, allowing scientists to produce detailed 3-dimensional maps to identify the safest, most efficient locations for energy exploration. Seismic surveys are commonly used not just by the oil and natural gas industry, but by the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation and the offshore wind industry.
Seismic surveys are carefully conducted and are subject to a rigorous environmental analysis and permitting process to ensure minimal impact on the marine environment. There is no evidence that the sound produced by exploring for oil and gas with seismic surveys has resulted in any physical or auditory injury to a marine mammal or impacted marine mammal populations in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, marine life and commercial fishing have thrived alongside seismic exploration in the Gulf of Mexico for more than 30 years.
To ensure that safe track record is maintained, the oil and natural gas industry has worked closely with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the National Marine Fisheries Service over the past 10 years to develop an updated regulatory framework to guide seismic surveying in the Gulf.
The new regulations will be the focus of a series of hearings conducted by BOEM this , and it’s critical that we avoid any steps that would unnecessarily threaten the economic and operational feasibility of performing seismic surveys in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to BOEM itself, seismic surveying “has been used for more than 30 years around the world…with no known detrimental impact to marine animal populations or to commercial fishing.” BOEM’s Chief Environmental Officer, Dr. William Brown – who describes himself as “a scientist who has spent a good part of my career working in non-governmental environmental organizations and in industry” says claims to the contrary are “wildly exaggerated and not supported by the evidence.”
Offshore energy development as a whole is safer now than ever before, according to congressional testimony from the co-chairs of the Presidential Oil Spill Commission, who applauded the oil and natural gas industry and the government for working together to enhance standards, regulations, spill prevention and response capabilities.
Decades of operational experience and the best available science confirm that seismic surveying is safe. And we know that it’s a critical part of energy exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, which in turn makes it a critical part of America’s future energy security. America’s oil and natural gas industry remains committed to improving the scientific understanding of this vital technology, and we look forward to working with BOEM to keep it safe.