GAO finds inconsistencies in processing offshore oil testing

The Hill | Timothy Cama | January 4, 2018

Federal regulators under the Obama administration were inconsistent in how they processed applications to conduct seismic research for offshore oil and natural gas, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found.

Auditors found in a report released Thursday that, depending on the regional office, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) took as much as 340 days to review seismic applications, or sometimes approved them the day they were complete.

Furthermore, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, which are responsible for reviewing seismic applications for compliance with wildlife laws, don’t have consistent standards for how to record the timing they take to process applications, GAO said.

“Until NMFS and FWS develop guidance that clarifies how and when staff should record the date the agency determines the ‘adequacy and completeness’ of an application, the agencies and applicants will continue to have uncertainty around review time frames for incidental take authorizations,” GAO said.

“Moreover, NMFS and FWS officials we interviewed said that they do not analyze their review time frames, a practice that is inconsistent with federal standards for internal control.”

Seismic analysis is the standard process by which companies hoping to drill offshore determine the oil and natural gas potential under the ocean floor.

The practice is controversial. Conservationists say seismic surveys harass and harm marine species like whales and porpoises.

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