Just as the Trump administration unveiled a new five-year plan that would allow more drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) calls for speedier approval in seismic research requests, necessary to find oil and gas reserves in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).
Offshore seismic surveys provide federal agencies and other entities with a wide range of data, from research on fault zones to geology that may indicate the presence of oil and gas.
“Offshore oil and natural gas are important sources of energy and revenue for the United States—constituting about 18 percent of our nation’s total oil production and about 4 percent of our total gas production —and providing the federal government with about $2.8 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2016,” according to the GAO letter addressed to House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
The GAO submitted its report to the House Committee on Natural Resources on Thursday, finding a failure of federal agencies during the Obama administration to provide efficient, effective and transparent permitting for seismic research in America's OCS.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) processes requests for seismic testing. The GAO found process and time frames for reviewing seismic survey applications differed by region along the OCS. The time frame for reviews between 2011 and 2016 varied from zero to 300 days. The office determined that BOEM requires additional guidance to help ensure timely reviews of applications.
In March 2016, Bishop sent a letter to the GAO with concerns about the consistency, timeliness and transparency of seismic permitting approvals, and requested detailed information on related processes.
“Seismic research is vital to unlocking energy potential off our coasts, and federal red tape is standing in the way. GAO’s report highlights the bureaucratic dysfunction, lack of transparency and blatant abuses of discretion that has stalled greater exploration and development,” Bishop said in a statement.
In a statement responding to the GAO report, National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi said “the permitting process for seismic research is flawed, arbitrary and dysfunctional. Bureaucratic and intentional foot-dragging has prevented a timely and objective appraisal of modern offshore seismic permits, putting the exploration and development of affordable and reliable energy that Americans rely on at risk.”
Earlier in the day, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the next step for developing the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program) for 2019-2024, which proposes to make over 90 percent of the total OCS acreage and more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development. In addition, the program proposes the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history.
“Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks,” said Zinke in a release. “Today's announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period. Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks. The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance"