Oil Industry Threatens to Take Its Underwater Air Guns and Go Home

A supply boat, lower left, passes an oil production platform in the Gulf of Mexico May 26, 2010. Offshore oil production and drilling structures dot the Louisiana coastline.    UPI/A.J. Sisco..
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Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Aug. 14, 2014, 9:55 a.m.

A game of chick­en is shap­ing up over the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­cision to let the oil in­dustry col­lect fresh data on en­ergy sup­plies off the At­lantic Coast.

The In­teri­or De­part­ment, over the protests of en­vir­on­ment­al­ists, said in Ju­ly that it would al­low the oil in­dustry to use seis­mic air can­nons to search for oil and gas un­der­neath fed­er­al wa­ters in the At­lantic.

But in­dustry trade groups, in new com­ments to In­teri­or, say that de­cision means little un­less reg­u­lat­ors sig­nal that the in­dustry will ac­tu­ally be able to drill for oil if they find it. Oth­er­wise, what’s the in­cent­ive to look?

Right now the At­lantic Coast is off-lim­its to drilling. But oil-and-gas com­pan­ies want In­teri­or to make clear that the fed­er­al 2017-2022 off­shore lease sale plan, which is in the early stages of de­vel­op­ment, will in­clude blocs off the At­lantic Coast states.

The Amer­ic­an Pet­ro­leum In­sti­tute and 10 oth­er groups, in new com­ments on the plan, say that right now “the tim­ing of the 2017-2022 Five-Year Pro­gram de­vel­op­ment pro­cess and in­dustry’s seis­mic data col­lec­tion are out of sync.”

They want In­teri­or to in­clude mid-At­lantic and South At­lantic re­gions in the draft 2017-2022 pro­gram. The groups note that un­der the cur­rent per­mit­ting timeline for seis­mic test­ing, com­pan­ies will not be able to col­lect data un­til early 2015 at the earli­est. Add in the data-pro­cessing time, and 2016 would be the earli­est that reg­u­lat­ors and the in­dustry would have new re­source es­tim­ates from the test­ing, they say.

“If the At­lantic [Out­er Con­tin­ent­al Shelf] is not in­cluded in the Draft Pro­posed Pro­gram, then new seis­mic data will likely not be avail­able since the in­cent­ive for com­pan­ies to col­lect the data—and the pro­spect of a fu­ture lease sale—will be gone,” state the com­ments from API, Amer­ica’s Nat­ur­al Gas Al­li­ance, the Na­tion­al Ocean In­dus­tries As­so­ci­ation, the In­ter­na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Geo­phys­ic­al Con­tract­ors, and oth­er groups.

An API spokes­man said the group has heard that the draft plan could be out by the end of 2014. In­teri­or did not provide a timeline Thursday.

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