A long-awaited Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released Thursday by the Interior Department sets the stage for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to start issuing permits for seismic exploration off the Atlantic Coast in an effort to locate oil and gas reserves. The controversial process, which uses high-pressure underwater seismic airgun blasts, has been opposed by a number of groups on grounds that it causes undue and unreasonable harm to marine life. Last week more than 100 marine scientists and conservation biologists sent a letter to President Obama and his administration urging them to “use the best available science before permitting seismic surveys for offshore oil and gas in the mid- and south Atlantic.” The letter calls on the administration to wait on new acoustic guidelines for marine mammals, which are currently in development by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Tommy Beaudreau, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said that the Interior Department’s plan closes certain areas for the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale and nesting habitat for sea turtles. “We’re really going to require and demand a high level of environmental performance,” Beaudreau said.
According to Beaudreau, the current seismic information from the area is decades old and used now-obsolete technologies — estimates from the 70s and 80s put the amount around a modest 3.3 billion barrels of oil. Currently the Gulf of Mexico produces about 1,250,000 barrels of oil a day according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. At this rate the proven reserves off the Atlantic would be the equivalent of just over seven years’ of Gulf oil. The area under consideration stretches all the way from Delaware to Florida and is twice the size of California.
The BOEM estimates from the 80s also put about 31.3 trillion cubic feet of gas off the East Coast. In 2012, the U.S. produced just over 24,000,000 million cubic feet of natural gas — meaning the supply off the East Coast is about what the rest of the country now produces in 15 months.
The EIS commences a five-year planning process that would open up the Atlantic to development. The area is currently off-limits to oil and gas exploration until 2017, but the next president could lift that restriction. On Monday, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell met with the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition for the first time. “Republican Govs. Pat McCrory (N.C.), Phil Bryant (Miss.), Robert Bentley (Ala.) and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe (Va.) attended the meeting,” reported The Hill. “McAuliffe told reporters he would join the all-Republican coalition — making him the first Democratic governor to do so.”
In September, Oceana, an ocean protection organization, delivered more than 100,000 petitions opposing seismic airguns to Beaudreau. Around 50 members of Congress, including some Republicans, have also sent letters to the president opposing the seismic tests.
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