The Mills of the Gods grind slow…

Overlapping Seismic Surveys – BOEM


This Friday morning (1/6/17) we were met with the fabulous news that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has denied the six seismic survey permits that were pending under the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Five Year Plan. My smile muscles have been in spasm since noon.

We have been working on this issue since reviewing and submitting our critique of the original Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in 2012, but the groundwork on this discussion really began in 2006 – when the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) was opened up for commercial speculation after decades of an offshore oil and gas extraction moratorium.

The initiating conversation orbited around needing to survey the Atlantic OCS, and the question was whether the surveys would be conducted under the auspices of the Department of the Interior (given that the OCS is “owned” in common by US taxpayers) or whether Interior was going to allow private companies to survey our commons – allowing them to privatize information about our resources.

Under the GW Bush administration you can guess where that argument went. So when the “Atlantic Geological and Geophysical Programmatic EIS” was released for review there were no-less than ten survey plans – many overlapping and concurrent. So one of our big concerns was that while the EIS considered the survey impacts individually, the fact was that as many as four surveys would be happening on top of each other at the same time – making a “blasting zone” of the Mid and South Atlantic OCS. This all for the sole purpose of assuring that every one of the operating Geophysical Contractors had a chance to collect and sell “their” data about our common resources.

Much can (and did) happen over the arc of ten years – way too Byzantine to detail in a 500-word post. But it included deceitful and lying public officials, compromised scientific integrity by regulators, and rapid back-stage maneuvers by industry, congress, and conservation NGOs.

The hinge swung when the Obama Administration pulled the Atlantic offshore leases last year. This opened up the argument that if the leases were not being offered, why would redundant seismic survey data be needed? But the Geophysical survey contracting firms had invested heavily in equipment and survey plans, so their long-term solvency swings on the same hinge.

These firms, having friends in Congress helped keep the permits and plans in BOEM’s inbox for all of last year, and frankly we were anticipating seeing them appear again in March of 2017. Given this decision it is likely that we won’t, so for the time being we can take these survey permits off our planning board.

Of course there is much more at play here than just the surveys; lease planning, the price of crude, the increasingly competitive prices of renewable energy, and the influence of the Oilmen in the incoming cabinet are all factors in this equation.

Given the dynamics of the entire offshore energy shadow play we may look back on this event as being seminal to more than just OCR’s 2017 strategy. Next year I hope to be able to say “It’s amazing that it only took ten years!”