The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management moved a step closer to geologic and geophysical (G&G) activity on the southern and mid-Atlantic US Outer Continental Shelf as it released its long-awaited final programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) for the area.
The PEIS does not authorize any G&G activities itself, BOEM Director Tommy P. Beaudreau said. It establishes a framework for additional mandatory environmental reviews for site-specific actions and identifies broadly applicable measures governing any future G&G activities, he explained. BOEM will accept comments on it until Apr. 7.
Its preferred alternative identifies the most protective mitigation measures and the strongest safeguards to reduce or eliminate impacts to marine life, Beaudreau said.
“The Department [of the Interior] and BOEM have been steadfast in our commitment to balancing the need for understanding offshore energy resources with the protection of the human and marine environment using the best available science as the basis of this environmental review," he indicated.
Mitigation efforts include requirements to avoid vessel strikes, special closure areas to protect the main migratory route for the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, geographic separation of simultaneous seismic air gun surveys, and passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) to supplement visual observers and improve detection of marine mammals prior to and during seismic air gun surveys.
Programs through 2020
BOEM’s PEIS assesses G&G activities conducted under its oil and gas, renewable energy, and marine minerals programs through 2020, including deep-penetration and high-resolution seismic surveys, electromagnetic surveys, magnetic surveys, gravity surveys, remote-sensing surveys and geological and geochemical sampling.
The PEIS also evaluates reasonably foreseeable environmental effects in adjacent state waters, the agency noted.
Congress directed the agency to prepare the PEIS in 2010 because there had been no comprehensive review of G&G activities’ potential environmental impact off the US Atlantic Coast, where no seismic had been shot for decades since the imposition of congressional moratoriums and presidential withdrawals in the 1980s.
Existing resource estimates are believed to be low since they predate the use of 3D mapping and other advanced technologies.
BOEM published the draft PEIS for public comment on Mar. 30, 2012, and received more than 55,000 comments from a variety of industry, government and nongovernment stakeholder groups and the general public during the 90-day public comment period. It also held 15 public meetings throughout the South and Mid-Atlantic to discuss the process and hear stakeholders’ views.
‘A vital link’
Oil and gas industry groups welcomed BOEM’s move. “The completion of the PEIS is an important step in the determination of whether to open up new areas of the Atlantic OCS to exploration,” Jeff Vorberger, vice-president for policy and government affairs at the National Ocean Industries Association. “It is a vital link in a lengthy review and permitting process.”
NOIA is still reviewing the document to ensure it provides a practical framework for seismic exploration of the South and Mid-Atlantic OCS to more forward, he continued. Seismic surveys have been used safely in the Gulf of Mexico for decades, Vorberger said.
“The PEIS appears to move us closer to using this same scientifically guided process in the Atlantic, and eventually realizing its remarkable potential for job creation, US energy security, domestic investment and deficit reduction,” he added.
Erik Milito, the American Petroleum Institute’s upstream and industry operations director, said a recent study by Quest Offshore Resources found that oil and gas development on the US Atlantic OCS between 2017 and 2034 could create nearly 280,000 new jobs along the East Coast and across the country, generate another $195 billion of private investment in oil and gas activity, and contribute up to $23.5 billion/year to the US economy.
It also could add 1.3 million boe/d to US energy production, which is about 70% of current output from the gulf, and raise $51 billion in new revenue for the federal government, he told reporters during a teleconference.
“In order to achieve these gains, the government must permit seismic surveys in the Atlantic and hold Atlantic lease sales under the next 5-year plan for offshore oil and gas,” Milito said. “That plan will cover lease sales from the second half of 2017 to the first half of 2022.”
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