Guest Column: Seismic Tests Critical

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I would like to share with your readers the perspective I recently provided to Congressmen Walter Jones and David Price, who signed a letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in opposition to proposed seismic surveying in the Atlantic.

The outer continental shelf, or OCS, offshore North Carolina holds the potential for significant amounts of recoverable fossil fuels and wind energy generation. New geological and geophysical surveys using seismic imaging are a critical next step towards harnessing offshore energy resources and realizing the substantial economic benefits such development would bring to North Carolina.

Donald van der Vaart

Donald R. van der Vaart

As chair of the OCS Governors Coalition, Gov. Pat McCrory advocates an all-of-the-above energy policy that encourages the safe and responsible exploration of offshore oil, natural gas and renewable energy. The Obama administration has acknowledged that the lower prices Americans are seeing at the gas pump are the result of increased domestic energy production. Exploration and development of offshore resources, along with appropriate environmental protections and revenue sharing, will maintain affordability and provide North Carolinians with clean, reliable energy.

The lack of current and reliable seismic data is the most pressing obstacle to making informed decisions about how to proceed. Most seismic data for the Atlantic is more than three decades old and cannot provide the vital information mid-Atlantic states need about the location and amount of resources lying below the seabed. With advanced seismic data collection and computer modeling, the industry will be better equipped to protect the environment, safely recover oil and gas resources and site offshore wind energy turbines.

The National Science Foundation safely conducted a 2-D seismic survey off the coast of North Carolina last fall. Interestingly, this study did not receive the attention that the proposed studies have generated, despite the fact that they used the same technology that is proposed for oil and gas seismic data collection. The N.C. divisions of Coastal Management and Marine Fisheries did not receive any reports of disturbances or injury to marine wildlife and are unaware of any adverse impacts resulting from those surveying activities.

That is consistent with observations made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in May 2015, which found no evidence that serious injury, death or stranding by marine mammals can occur from exposure to airgun pulses, even in the case of large airgun arrays. Sadly, some political groups masquerading as environmental organizations have chosen to ignore these realities.

The McCrory administration supports President Obama’s decision to open the mid-Atlantic to job-creating offshore energy exploration that will move North Carolina and the nation closer to energy independence. We disagree, however, with the Obama administration’s decision not to allow revenue sharing between the federal government and mid-Atlantic states, as is done with Gulf Coast states. Because coastal states inherit all of the risk associated with offshore exploration and development, revenue sharing is critical in protecting the environment and our vibrant coastal economies.

I urge Congressmen Jones and Price to support seismic surveying as a next step towards offshore energy exploration and hope they will represent North Carolina’s best interests by insisting that revenue sharing is part of any offshore energy program. With updated seismic data in hand and revenue sharing in place, North Carolina will be poised to realize the significant benefits of offshore energy development.

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About the Author

Donald R. van der Vaart

Donald R. van der Vaart is the Secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.