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U.S. Could Allow Atlantic Offshore Surveying This Year

A top Department of Interior official said that the Obama administration may allow oil and gas companies to begin seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean later this year in what would be a first step towards offshore oil exploration. Tommy Beaudreau, the Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) told a House Appropriations subcommittee that the Department has received several applications to conduct seismic testing. “It's possible, depending on what the contractor wants to do, that the first survey could be as early as later this year,” he said.

The Atlantic Ocean has been off limits to drilling since the early 1980s, but the Obama administration has taken steps to open up the area for exploration. There is an estimated 3.3 billion barrels of oil under the Atlantic seabed. Environmental groups have opposed seismic testing due to the damaging effects on marine life. Moreover, by blocking seismic testing, they hope to prevent drilling before it starts. At the hearing, Rep. James Moran (D-VA) expressed concern about the potential impacts of an oil spill on Virginia’s economy, and pressed Beaudreau on ensuring that Interior has sufficient oversight to guard against such an event.

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Interior published an environmental impact statement in February that outlined safeguards to protect marine life, but also provided a framework for companies to move forward with seismic testing. It didn’t approve seismic testing outright, but that appears to be the direction the agency is heading. And Beaudreau’s comments last week suggest that Interior is moving towards approving seismic testing in late 2014.

Seismic testing would merely be the first step. Drilling could not occur before 2017 – the Department of Interior operates under five-year plans, and should it decide to open up the Atlantic for drilling, that would likely come as part of the 2017-2022 plan.

By James Burgess of Oilprice.com


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