Federal regulators under the Obama administration were inconsistent in how they processed applications to conduct seismic research for offshore oil and natural gas, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found.
Auditors found in a report released Thursday that, depending on the regional office, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) took as much as 340 days to review seismic applications, or sometimes approved them the day they were complete.
Furthermore, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which are responsible for reviewing seismic applications for compliance with wildlife laws, don’t have consistent standards for how to record the time they take to process applications, GAO said.
“Until NMFS and FWS develop guidance that clarifies how and when staff should record the date the agency determines the ‘adequacy and completeness’ of an application, the agencies and applicants will continue to have uncertainty around review time frames for incidental take authorizations,” GAO said.
“Moreover, NMFS and FWS officials we interviewed said that they do not analyze their review time frames, a practice that is inconsistent with federal standards for internal control.”
Seismic analysis is the standard process by which companies hoping to drill offshore determine the oil and natural gas potential under the ocean floor.
The practice is controversial. Conservationists say seismic surveys harass and harm marine species like whales and porpoises.
Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopGOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Westerman tapped as top Republican on House Natural Resources Committee | McMorris Rodgers wins race for top GOP spot on Energy and Commerce | EPA joins conservative social network Parler MORE (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, requested the report, and released it publicly Thursday.
He said it shows the need to reform drilling standards to make the process more certain for the private sector.
“Seismic research is vital to unlocking energy potential off our coasts, and federal red tape is standing in the way,” he said in a statement. “GAO’s report highlights the bureaucratic dysfunction, lack of transparency and blatant abuses of discretion that has stalled greater exploration and development.”
GAO’s research focused on 2011 through 2016.