API calls for more data to help shape next 5-year OCS plan

The American Petroleum Institute said it would like the administration of US President Barack Obama to gather information more quickly so it will be able to consider expanded oil and gas leasing on more of the US Outer Continental Shelf when it develops the next 5-year management program.

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in particular should establish procedures for conducting seismic tests in waters off four Atlantic coastal states where recent Harris Interactive surveys for API showed strong support for more oil and gas activity off their shorelines, they told reporters during an Oct. 21 luncheon briefing.

“We don’t even have the full Atlantic coast as a potential seismic area,” API Upstream and Industry Operations Director Erik Milito said. “We won’t be able to run it off Florida or North Atlantic states. Moreover, seismic won’t tell companies whether oil and gas is there, but only show what formations look like. It still would be a hell of a lot better than surveys from 30 years ago.”

Andy Radford, a senior API advisor specializing in offshore oil and gas issues, said it’s not certain whether the recent 16-day federal government shutdown will keep BOEM from meeting its goal of issuing a final environmental assessment of potential impacts from conducting 3D seismic tests along the Mid-Atlantic OCS in January 2014.

“I’m trying to get a handle on the EA process and how long it’s going to take,” he said. “Then companies will need to decide what kinds of seismic they can run and how to handle mitigation requirements. This would be the first time they’d have to deal with dolphins, which love bow waves from seismic vessels.”

Milito said, “It’s important to recognize that the operation and regulatory time frame is being expanded here. We may need to take another look at leasing deadlines.”

Radford noted, “BOEM needs to understand that it would be possible to schedule Mid-Atlantic OCS lease sales late in the next 5-year program, gather seismic information leading up to them, and cancel the sales if the findings aren’t favorable.

Surveys’ results

Sixty-seven percent of voters nationwide would like to see more domestic OCS oil and gas activity, Harris Interactive found in a telephone survey of 1,002 register voters between Sept. 24 and 29. Levels were similar among respondents in South Carolina (77%), Virginia (67%), North Carolina (65%), and Florida (64%), API said.

“We’re looking heavily at the Atlantic OCS because we’ve had activity there in the past,” Milito said. “We’re also starting to look at the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Pacific coasts, and hope to have new figures soon of potential economic benefits of development there.”

The Obama administration’s more cautious Atlantic OCS approach contrasts with more aggressive efforts off Nova Scotia and Cuba, he noted. “Let’s continue to allow opportunities to explore and see what’s actually out there,” Milito urged. “We’re getting closer to development of the next 5-year program, and need to start gathering the necessary information now.”

He said he recently returned from a meeting with South Carolina coastal community leaders who were interested in potential offshore oil and gas activity off their shorelines.

“We can tell them about technology such as subsea completion and production systems which eliminate visual impacts on the water’s surface,” he said. “Based on what we’re observing elsewhere along the Atlantic shelf, the significant crude oil deposits may be concentrated farther out so structures and vessels won’t even be visible from shore.”

Virginia Petroleum Council Pres. Mike Ward, who also participated in the briefing, said officials from the commonwealth have continued working with the US Department of Defense so oil and gas operations off the commonwealth’s coast can accommodate US military needs.

“BOEM has established working groups to address this issue,” Milito said. “There are ways to manage activities now that a lot of people don’t understand. Our strategy is to talk to mayors and other local officials. We’re working at the grassroots and grasstops. We’re also taking it to both sides of the aisle in both houses of Congress.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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