Government takes step toward seismic research in Atlantic

The Obama administration today said it is taking the  first steps to allowing new seismic research in federal waters along the Atlantic Coast that could help identify hidden pockets of oil and gas — even though drilling in the area will be off limits until at least 2017.

The initial move is coming in the form of a required environmental impact statement that will assess the potential effects of geological and geophysical research on the outer continental shelf in the mid- and south-Atlantic. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement announced it had launched work on that programmatic environmental impact statement today.

“This work will enable us to carefully and responsibly identify the resources that meet our nation’s energy needs while protecting the Atlantic and its coastal communities,” said Michael Bromwich, the bureau director. “It is an important part of our comprehensive approach to energy development that relates to oil and gas, as well as offshore wind.”

The decision keeps the country on a path to eventually leasing federal Atlantic waters for oil and gas development. But it won’t be happening any time soon, under a new five-year leasing plan being developed by the Obama administration. Earlier this month, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that there would be no sales of oil and gas leases along the Atlantic under that plan, which would govern those decisions from 2012 through June 2017. The move reversed President Barack Obama’s March 31 announcement that opened the door to offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean and eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Future seismic research in the region would help guide decisions about where to allow oil and gas leases as well as equipment that generates renewable energy, such as wind turbines.

The government held 13 public meetings earlier this year to help guide the development of the new programmatic environmental impact statement. Today, the ocean energy bureau contracted Florida-based Continental Shelf Associates to develop the document, which will be made available to the public sometime next year. The ocean energy bureau expects it will be completed in late 2012.

Image: AP photo