The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has issued the final programmatic environmental impact statement regarding the proposed geological and geophysical surveys in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.
According to Earth Justice, an environmental group, the four-volume, 2592 pages, BOEM document, concluded seismic surveys for oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico would cause significant harm to marine mammals.
The analysis finds that as many as 31.9 million marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico will be injured and harassed by oil and gas seismic surveys. This includes 80 percent of the Gulf’s endangered sperm whale population, estimated at 763 animals. Sperm whales will experience as many as 760,000 harassing exposures to airgun blasting over the next decade, Earth Justice said.
“Oil industry airgun blasts harm whales and dolphins rather than giving them the protection they deserve. We can’t keep treating the Gulf of Mexico with such flagrant disregard,” said Miyoko Sakashita, ocean program director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Trump’s promises to expand offshore drilling will amplify the damage we’re doing to whales and other marine animals.”
The draft estimates that seismic blasting would cause as many as 588 injuries to the Gulf’s Bryde’s whales—of which only 33 individuals remain—or about 17 times for each member of this imperiled population.
The report, Earth Justice says, estimates that oil and gas seismic surveys will harm whales and dolphins with as many as 4.3 million instances of injury, including permanent hearing loss.
The report also outlines possible mitigation measures, including closure areas where seismic blasting would be banned, and reductions in the amount of activity permissible each year.
Oil industry disappointed
The American Petroleum Institute (API) is disappointed with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on seismic surveying in the Gulf of Mexico.
API said it had previously joined the International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC), the National Ocean Industries Association, and the Offshore Operators Committee to submit detailed comments on BOEM’s Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. It said the final Programmatic EIS failed to take into account extensive industry mitigation efforts and use the best available scientific information in setting new operational measures.
“While we appreciate BOEM moving forward in this process, today’s decision is based on a flawed interpretation of scientific data,” said Andy Radford, API Senior Offshore Policy Advisor. “It also disregards the fact that the natural gas and oil industry has been conducting safe, effective seismic research in the Gulf of Mexico for decades with effective mitigation measures that provide strong protections to marine life. We urge BOEM to consider these important facts as this process continues.”
API says that seismic surveys are a safe and proven technology that help make offshore energy development safer and more efficient.
“Advances in seismic imaging technology and data processing over the last decade have dramatically improved the industry’s ability to locate oil and natural gas offshore. In addition to the oil and natural gas industry, seismic surveys are commonly used by the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation, and the offshore wind industry. A rigorous permitting process ensures that seismic surveys are properly managed and conducted so they have minimal impact on the marine environment,” API, representing, 625 members, including large integrated companies, as well as exploration and production, refining, marketing, pipeline, and marine businesses, and service and supply firms, said.
“Our industry remains committed to improving the scientific understanding of the impacts of our operations on marine life,” said Radford.
“Seismic surveying in the Gulf of Mexico is a critical part of safe offshore energy development that is necessary if we are to continue to harness our nation’s energy potential for the benefit of American energy consumers.”
Seismic players: Report puts energy in jeopardy
International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC) President Nikki Martin published the following statement after BOEM issued its final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS):
“Today, the BOEM issued a final PEIS that jeopardizes one of the most important regions for energy resources, the U.S Gulf of Mexico (GOM). In choosing its preferred alternative, the agency disregarded fifty years of successful seismic survey exploration alongside vibrant thriving marine ecosystems in the GOM, and issued a final PEIS that ignores the best available science.
“While we are still reviewing the details of the final PEIS, it appears to remain overly precautionary with seriously flawed marine mammal effects analysis for seismic activities and is unsupported by best available information, thus leading to the proposed alternative which poses non-scientific and unnecessary restrictions on geophysical surveys.
“For nearly eight decades, geophysical surveys have been conducted in the GOM, including extensive activity for the past fifty years, and there is no documented scientific evidence of this activity adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities.”
“Mitigation measures for the sake of “precaution” based on unsubstantiated claims from anti-energy development interests should have no basis in U.S. statute or regulation and threaten the economic and operational feasibility of performing geophysical surveys in areas ripe for updated data to support future lease sales and production. Specifically, an arbitrary 4-month near-shore closure in all coastal waters, including state waters, has no scientific merit or environmental benefit and should be precluded from the BOEM’s Record of Decision.
“Last year when the BOEM issued its draft PEIS, the industry urged the agency to rely on science and risk-based regulations consistent with existing practices which are both effective and operationally feasible and not bow to the political pressure of the anti-oil and gas agenda which refuses to look at the long-standing history of environmentally safe seismic operations in the Gulf of Mexico.
“For nearly eight decades, geophysical surveys have been conducted in the GOM, including extensive activity for the past fifty years, and there is no documented scientific evidence of this activity adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities. Geophysical surveys have taken place alongside multiple industries, including successful fishing and tourism industries, and within a thriving ecosystem with an abundance of marine life.
“IAGC will review the PEIS in detail and work with the Trump Administration to encourage BOEM to issue a Record of Decision that reflects the Administration’s commitment to rational decision making based on a clear-eyed review of the best available science and recognizes the positive, critical contributions of geophysical surveys in the GOM for locating and producing safe affordable energy.”
Offshore Energy Today Staff