Obama Denies Atlantic Oil and Gas Exploration Permits
If you think oil rigs that disrupt the ocean’s surface are ugly, you’re not alone — President Obama thinks they’re pretty gross too. But this isn’t just about preserving a nice view.
Marine oil and gas extraction comes at a high environmental cost, and so does the exploration used to find the next big petroleum deposit under the sea. That’s why last Friday, the administration denied six seismic survey applications.
It might feel like an empty gesture given that Donald Trump will be helming the ship as of January 20, but it was still an important one. The incredibly science-friendly Obama Administration has taken a variety of measures to protect the oceans, and it clearly wanted to go out on a high note.
Oil and gas exploration can be detrimental to wildlife, considering that resource extraction tends to follow. Seismic surveys, however, are particularly bad.
When resources sit deep underwater, it’s not like you can wander around with a sampling pole and a pair of good hiking boots — though on land, aircraft and more sophisticated surveillance techniques tend to be the order of the day.
Finding underwater oil and gas deposits involves the use of devices known as seismic airguns or seismic cannons, which shoot bubbles of compressed air at the seabed. The tools measure the reflected energy to assess what might be lurking below. Many times a minute. Around the clock. For days on end.
We’re not talking a little string of bubbles here, either.
Marine advocacy groups say seismic airgun blasting can kill or disorientate wildlife, disturb the ocean floor and cause permanent hearing loss or damage. Animals frightened from their habitats may never return, and their confusion and altered sense of hearing could make it hard to find prey. Ultimately, the blasts may lead to beachings and strandings.
Imagine if someone was doing that to your house — you probably wouldn’t be very pleased.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management indicated that the environmental costs did not outweigh the benefits. Furthermore, the agency commented, thanks to protections put in place by President Obama in November, the Atlantic is off-limits to drilling for the next five years. Why identify deposits if you can’t drill them?
It’s a legitimate question — the agency noted that oil and gas topography can change, and so can survey equipment. In light of that fact, it makes more sense to wait until the five-year period is up to assess the state of the technical and policy landscape.
While the new administration could decide to grant the permits if applicants resubmit — and they could move forward with surveys — they still wouldn’t be able to do much with the information, other than pressure the government to find a loophole and approve drilling.
And if you think that moratorium on drilling could turn around, think again.
The Obama Administration took very careful legal steps to develop a clear, legally defensible path to banning drilling in the Arctic and parts of the Atlantic, in addition to extending the five-year moratorium discussed above. While subsequent administrations may not be very pleased with the moratorium, they will likely just have to wait it out.
Of course, thanks to climate change, the definition of “offshore” might change sooner than many of us would care to think, raising an uncomfortable question about what becomes of flooded oilfields.
Photo credit: Marianne Mugenburg Cothern