The Obama Administration is studying a decision on whether to allow natural gas exploration of the coasts of both Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia. But, before that can happen, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management would need to allow seismic tests in the mid- and south-Atlantic region.
Seismic testing is the first step toward the possible green light for exploration. The tests require using large air guns to send sound energy into the sea bed. The energy that is reflected back is then analyzed to give geologists some idea of oil and gas reserves under the sea floor. The tests can prove drilling potential.
As Congress debates the issue of drilling itself, University of South Carolina researcher Dr. James Knapp was asked to testify to several members of the House Natural Resources Committee on Friday about seismic tests.
“That’s where the focus is right now,” Knapp told South Carolina Radio Network. “We really need to collect modern data that we can process and analyze up to current standards to evaluate what the potential for the resource is.”
The proposal is being pushed by House Republicans, most notably South Carolina’s own Rep. Jeff Duncan. “I can’t find a single instance where a marine mammal’s death was attributed to seismic,” he said during Friday’s hearing, according to the Greenville News. But House Democrats are reluctant to endorse the testing, worrying that it could harm marine life under the surface.
Dr. Knapp does not believe the testing hurts fish and other sea life. “The weight of the scientific evidence is that these kinds of surveys have been conducted the world over for decades and have not resulted in significant detrimental impact to the marine community,” he said.
A decision by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is now expected by the end of February.
There are still those who see natural gas and oil exploration and drilling operations as trouble waiting to happen. Four Democrats sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, asking for more analysis of how the sound technology affects marine life.
“It is not at all clear that these impacts are being given serious consideration when decisions about offshore resource development are being made,” according to the letter provided by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee.
They urge the bureau to wait until the government acts on recommendations following the BP oil platform explosion and resulting massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
But Knapp said one must look at the exploration and drilling record overall. “There are tens of thousands of wells that have been drilled offshore that are producing oil and gas and have never caused that kind of disaster,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.
Sheree Bernardi contributed to this report