It’s time to move forward with offshore seismic surveys

Greenville News | Robert Alario | July 6, 2017

After years of delays and flip-flopping from the Obama administration, seismic surveys of oil and natural gas resources along South Carolina’s coast may finally happen.

The Trump administration has signaled its willingness to expand offshore oil and gas exploration beyond the Gulf of Mexico, and five companies have filed requests for permits to survey the outer continental shelf of the mid-Atlantic. These surveys would finally reveal the full potential of resources that may lay off our coast.

It has been more than 30 years since the last surveys were made of the Atlantic seaboard’s offshore resources. Those surveys, conducted in the 1980s, yielded estimates of 4.7 billion barrels of oil and 37.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas beneath the Atlantic’s outer continental shelf. However, there’s strong reason to believe those projections were far too low, because while those surveys were state-of-the-art then, today’s surveying technology is exponentially more sophisticated. Thanks to technological improvements in the sciences of surveying and exploration, the oil and natural gas that has actually been produced from the region beneath the Gulf of Mexico has far surpassed those original estimates.

Make no mistake, we are going to need, in the future, more, not less oil and natural gas. Today, 67 percent of U.S. energy consumed comes from oil and natural gas resources. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects a nearly identical level of reliance on these fuels in 2040.

Oil meets more than 90 percent of our transportation needs. Natural gas is used to heat half of our homes, is the key feedstock for heavy industry and now fuels the largest share of U.S. electricity generation. For decades to come, these fuels will remain the lifeblood of our economy… and offshore seismic surveys will be a critically important tool in assessing and shaping our energy policy.

There are determined opponents to new seismic surveying, with different interests and/or agendas. Certain environmental groups, for example, advance the talking point which suggests that the surveys would hurt marine mammals and, therefore, pose too much of a risk to be allowed to go forward. In fact, multiple studies have been conducted examining the safety of offshore surveying. They have all found the technology to be safe. In fact, in 2014 the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) wrote of seismic surveying, “To date, there has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from air guns used in geological and geophysical seismic activities adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities.” As the BOEM experts rightfully pointed out, this is a technology that has been in use for decades around the world, including in our own Gulf of Mexico, and has produced no known detrimental impacts to marine mammals… or to commercial fishing.

Read the full op-ed here.

 Robert Alario of Landrum is managing member of Alario & Associates LLC, a member of the National Ocean Industries Association, and former chairman and president of the Offshore Marine Service Association.