State officials consider appeal of BOEM decision to allow seismic survey

The blue area off the Atlantic Coast is the region WesternGeco is proposing seismic surveys to search for oil and natural gas deposits. (WesternGeco graphic)

RALEIGH — State officials are looking into appealing to a federal court the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s decision to allow seismic surveying off the North Carolina coast.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality announced June 15 that U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has overridden department officials’ Coastal Zone Management Act consistency objection to a proposal from surveying company WesternGeco to conduct seismic surveys off the Atlantic Coast from Florida to Delaware.

DEQ’s Division of Coastal Management public information officer Christy Simmons said as of Wednesday, the DCM is reviewing state officials’ option to appeal Mr. Ross’ decision to the federal courts.

“This proposed seismic testing for oil and gas exploration has no place off our coast,” DEQ Secretary Michael Regan stated in a June 15 press release. “Our coastal resources are too precious to risk from these proposed activities. We stand with all of the coastal communities who have made their opposition to the proposed seismic testing and offshore oil and gas clear.”

Seismic testing and offshore oil and gas exploration have been a topic debated in Carteret County for several years. All the county’s municipal councils and commissions have passed resolutions opposing oil and gas drilling and/or seismic surveying.

Seismic surveying is a form of exploratory surveying for oil and natural gas deposits. Seismic air guns are used to search for the deposits. While some fossil fuel advocates have said this is a less-invasive method than exploratory drilling, opponents of drilling have said the air gun blasts have effects on marine wildlife, driving them away from their customary habitats.  

WesternGeco first submitted an application to BOEM for a geological and geophysical survey permit in April 2014.

The DMC filed an objection to the company’s consistency determination request in June 2019, saying the proposal wasn’t consistent with the CZMA. WesternGeco appealed this objection.

On June 15, Secretary Ross issued a decision, saying the project is consistent with the objectives or purposes of the act, overriding the state officials’ objection.

“It (the proposed survey) furthers the national interest in a significant or substantial matter,” the official decision reads. “The national interest furthered by the proposed survey outweighs the proposed survey’s adverse coastal effects, and there is no reasonable alternative available for the proposed survey.”

Now that the objection has been overridden, BOEM is moving forward with WesternGeco’s application. BOEM Office of Public Affairs Deputy Chief Tracey Moriarty said in an email Thursday to the News-Times the bureau doesn’t have a timeline for when it will finish its review of the application.

“If approved, activity can begin after the permittee provides BOEM with a 30-day notice of commencement of permitted seismic surveys operations,” Ms. Moriarty said. “If surveys are conducted, permittees will be required to use mitigation measures to minimize effects to marine animal populations or coastal communities.”

Additional information on these protective measures is available at the website boem.gov/regions/protective-measures.

 

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

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