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Panel: Legislation Needed to Address Seismic Research Permitting Failures, Prevent Future Political Abuse

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 19, 2018 -

Today, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing to examine regulatory obstacles to seismic research in America’s outer continental shelf (OCS). 

Acoustic seismic surveying is used to collect valuable information regarding offshore geological structures, and is used by a myriad of stakeholders, including the federal government, energy production companies, and research scientists to make informed management decisions concerning federal offshore resources.

Walter Cruickshank, Acting Director of the Bureau of Ocean Management (BOEM), described the geological and geophysical data retrieved from seismic surveying as “critically important” and used for a variety of reasons beyond oil and gas development, including renewable energy projects, coastal restoration projects and to better plan for natural disasters.

Unfortunately, a cumbersome permitting process for geological and geophysical (G&G) surveying that involves multiple federal agencies has crippled expanded research endeavors.

Ryan Steen, Representative of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, and an attorney with extensive experience in environmental regulation and litigation, argued that the arcane permitting process is the “primary cause of administrative delay” and the “ambiguous, outdated and unclear language” required from federal agencies involved in permitting decisions. 

A December 2017 Government Accountability Office report corroborated these complaints, and highlighted the failures, seemingly intentional delays, and political decisions that influence the current permitting process.

In January 2017, in the twilight of the Obama administration, six seismic applications were unilaterally denied.  As documented in GAO's report, this was the first time BOEM had ever denied a G&G permit.

“Under the Obama administration, there were six G&G permits that were essentially yanked from the applicants for purely political reasons.” Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Chairman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) stated. “Failure to properly process these permits, and failure to develop a proper path forward for future permits, keeps our country in the dark about our offshore resources, hindering our nation’s ability to make informed, long term leasing decisions.”

The denial of the six permits was an “abrupt political decision, on the eve of a new Presidency, to summarily deny all permit applications. BOEM has since correctly reinstated the permit applications, which remain under agency review,” Steen added.

In May 2017, under the Trump administration, BOEM announced it would reconsider the 6 permit applications rescinded under the prior administration.  These applications have now been under review for more than a thousand days.

In November 2017, the Committee passed H.R. 4239, the “SECURE American Energy Act,” a broad package of upstream energy reforms, including provisions that ensure regulatory certainty and clarity in the offshore seismic permitting process.

Click here to view full witness testimony.  

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

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