U.S. agency says no to requests for ocean surveys with airguns

By on January 6, 2017

A ship tows an array of airguns. (BOEM)

Federal officials have turned down six applications to use airguns to look for undersea sites that might yield oil and natural gas up and down the East Coast, including areas off North Carolina.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said the risks to marine life outweigh the potential benefits of seismic surveying along the Outer Continental Shelf, particularly since the Atlantic has been removed from the federal leasing program.

Dozens of coastal towns and counties have passed resolutions objecting to surveying with airguns.

“In the present circumstances and guided by an abundance of caution, we believe that the value of obtaining the geophysical and geological information from new airgun seismic surveys in the Atlantic does not outweigh the potential risks of those surveys’ acoustic pulse impacts on marine life,” BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement.

“Since federal waters in the Mid and South Atlantic have been removed from leasing consideration for the next five years, there is no immediate need for these surveys.”

BOEM also noted that testing results obtained now might be obsolete by the time offshore drilling is back on the horizon and would have to be redone.

The action affects only surveys with airguns. Other methods are also used to map the ocean floor.

Seismic surveys are conducted by vessels towing arrays of airguns.

“Seismic airguns can penetrate several thousand meters beneath the seafloor,” the BOEM statement said. “Surveys for other, shallow depth purposes typically do not use airguns. While surveys may have some impacts to marine life, airgun seismic surveys have the potential for greater impacts. “

[adrotate banner=”425″]Oceana, an environmental group leading a campaign against seismic testing and offshore drilling, praised the decision.

“Today, we thank the Obama administration for finishing the job in protecting the Atlantic Ocean from offshore drilling activities,” campaign director Claire Douglass said in a statement. “East Coast communities can finally take a well-deserved sigh of relief knowing that their ocean and economies are currently spared from dangerous seismic airgun blasting.

“With offshore drilling off the table for the near future, there was absolutely no reason to risk the damage that would be caused by seismic airgun blasting in the region.”

The decision was also welcomed by The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce.

“This action is a win for our business community including our commercial fishermen, our environment and our thriving tourism economy,” Chamber President & CEO Karen Brown said in a statement.

“This important decision will buy us time to educate the next Administration about the Outer Banks and the entire Atlantic Coast business community’s overwhelming opposition to offshore drilling.”



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