Seismic testing will inform sound energy decisions

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A bipartisan contingent of U.S. House members agree, as demonstrated by their recent letter to President Obama pleading for the EIS’s swift completion.  They understand there is ample reason to believe we will find much more oil and natural gas there than we first believed. It has been over a generation since seismic testing was last conducted along the Atlantic seaboard, and it was done using two-dimensional imaging technology. Today, we possess more sophisticated three-dimensional imaging technology that allows us to identify resources that were previously undetectable. For example, in 1987 the Minerals Management Service estimated that there were 9.6 billion barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. However, technological advances since then have allowed industry to produce more than five times that amount of oil from the gulf. In 2011, they used advanced imaging technology and adjusted their estimate to 48.4 billion barrels. That’s a 500 percent increase over the previous estimate. By relying on outdated technology and information, we are blindly assessing offshore resource potential and making uninformed decisions without the benefit of sound, technology-based science.

Contrary to what some opponents believe, seismic testing has become a simple information gathering process that can be done safely while protecting our valuable ocean ecosystems. There are several safeguards in place to reduce potential impact on wildlife in seismic survey areas, including the gradual ramping up of sound levels to allow marine wildlife to leave the area before the full survey begins and observers aboard the survey vessel to shut things down if an animal is spotted in the area. The oil and natural gas industry has performed seismic surveys all over the world for decades – including in the Gulf of Mexico – and there is not a single documented case of an animal death related to sound exposure during a survey. Further, a 2005 report by the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council stated that there is no conclusive link between exposure to sound and a decrease in marine mammal population.

In 2010, the Department of the Interior (DOI) indicated that the Atlantic Seismic EIS would be completed by April 2012. We are now nearly a full year past this target date. I urge DOI to swiftly complete this environmental analysis so that the many seismic permits already submitted to the Department may be properly considered, along with any future applications.

The time has come for a detailed, accurate survey of the oil and natural gas resources along the Atlantic outer continental shelf. The technology is there. All we need is the completion of the environmental analysis that will allow us to use that technology. America has been wearing a blindfold with regard to the true scope of our offshore resources. The EIS will remove that blindfold and allow us to make the science-based decisions called for by the President. Once that happens, our nation will be one big step closer to reaching its goal of energy independence.

Luthi has been the president of the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) since 2010.