It has been more than 30 years since the last seismic surveys were taken of the outer continental shelf of the Atlantic seaboard. The estimates we currently have for how much oil and natural gas may lie beneath those waters leave much to be desired. It’s past time — in the spirit of exploring the unknown and for ensuring our energy security — we conduct new surveys to understand just what resources we potentially have within reach.
Thankfully, the Trump administration has overturned President Obama’s denial of five Atlantic outer continental shelf seismic survey permit applications. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management can now thoughtfully and objectively review those permit applications and potentially put us on course for desperately needed new surveys.
We are currently trying to develop an approach to offshore energy management with an incomplete picture of the resources that will likely prove critically important in the years ahead. I participated in the first 2-D seismic survey of the Atlantic coast’s outer continental shelf in the 1970s. While the technology was state-of-the-art then, the imaging and analysis pulled from it is light-years away from what seismic surveying achieves today.
Recall the first computer you brought home or used in your office and compare it to the processing power and features of a current laptop or smartphone. That same type of seemingly exponential growth in technology has occurred with seismic surveying. To understand what resources we have along the Atlantic seaboard, and where they are, we need new surveys that can provide a scientifically accurate picture.
For all the debate about the future for potential offshore energy exploration, we are making important decisions — or demurring on them — with little of the information we should have. In this age of big data, shouldn’t we jump at the opportunity to get our hands, and computers, on the best data available?
Yet, there remain those in opposition to any new surveying at all. These opponents tend to repeat two prominent arguments. They claim that sound from these surveys harms marine animals without providing any evidence it does. The industry — along with academia and the government — has conducted surveys across the globe without any documented case of marine deaths or physical injury.
There are also opponents who simply don’t want to know how much oil and natural gas may be along our shores. Too many are willing to use oil and natural gas to power their cars, or cool their homes, but are unwilling to entertain the idea of energy production 50 miles from our coast. That opposition to even potentially producing the fuels that are the lifeblood of our economy is a tremendous mistake.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, oil and natural gas meet 67 percent of the nation’s energy needs and are expected to through 2040. We must prepare for our energy future now and doing so means understanding the resources we have and those we don’t.
Conducting new seismic surveying of our offshore territory is a logical and prudent step to building a secure energy future. Even if the most optimistic projections for alternate, non-hydrocarbon fuels are met, which is very unlikely, there will be decades of need for new hydrocarbon sources to maintain and improve our standard of living.
We can find them in our own safe and secure country, or they can be found by others in hostile regions of the world and used to our detriment.
Roger Keyte is the retired former board chairman of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors. Roger was previously vice president for GSI, the seismic branch of Texas Instruments, where he was responsible for all off-shore exploration in the Western hemisphere.
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