Decision follows recent move to revive 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.
That decision, which represents a further step in the White House’s efforts to undo Obama Administration policy limiting offshore energy drilling, was welcomed in some quarters. But it was criticized by some environmental advocates and Dare County leaders.
A Department of Interior release quoted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s statement 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.”
Nikki Martin, President of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, issued a statement lauding the 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.”
Seismic testing, 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. While the Department of Interior says the process should not have “significant impacts on marine mammal populations,” critics counter that it is harmful to marine life.
Outer Banks Surfrider Foundation Co-Chair Ivy Ingram told the Sentinel that, "We are incredibly concerned about this push for seismic testing, especially in relation to the impact on marine life and migratory mammals, but also about what this will mean for coastal communities down the line.”
Dustin Cranor, of the environmental ocean advocacy group Oceana, asserted that, "Seismic airguns create one of the loudest man-made sounds in the ocean…The noise from these blasts is so loud that it can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source, which is approximately the distance from Washington, D.C. to Las Vegas.”
Asked for comment on the seismic testing decision, Dare Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard noted that the board has repeatedly expressed its opposition to offshore drilling.
"I can't speak for the board on this,” he added, "but my personal view is that, if we're opposed to drilling, what is the need for seismic testing? I'm not in favor of opening the permit process back up.” That view was seconded by Nags Head Mayor Bob Edwards, who cited the large number of dolphin that could be adversely affected by seismic testing.
The Trump Administration’s new policy on seismic testing, in effect, 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.
It likely came as no surprise to many that seismic testing permitting was re-started after the late April decision to resurrect the offshore drilling process. That move overturned Obama 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 environmental advocates foresaw a tough fight ahead that is now coming to fruition.
"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."