WASHINGTON (CN) – In its first step toward expanding offshore oil drilling, the Interior Department said Wednesday it will move forward on seismic surveys in the Atlantic Ocean – an area that has long been protected from such requests.
Six applications by energy companies – once rejected by the Obama administration – are now under active review by the Trump administration.
Oil and gas industry giants have long pushed for the seismic surveys. The data will give companies the opportunity to map drilling sites for natural gas and oil reserves. Surveys like this have not been conducted in the mid and south-Atlantic Ocean for three decades.
Stretching from Northern Florida to Delaware, any new drilling will be limited to the coasts of North and South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia, which shares its waterways with the nation’s capital and Maryland.
Just last month, President Donald Trump signed off on expanded drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic. The push to unleash crude and natural gas has remained a critical component of Trump’s platform, and the president has said unleashing energy reserves currently off-limits will reduce foreign oil imports.
Environmentalists have historically opposed the surveys outright, saying that loud sounds from seismic air guns harm marine life. Should offshore drilling begin, the threat increases significantly with whales, walruses and other wildlife at risk. Speeding up global warming is also high on the environmentalists’ list of concerns.
The Interior Department issued a statement Wednesday saying that the surveys are necessary to update data maintained on the Outer Continental Shelf. The current records were taken more than 30 years ago.
Zinke also said the surveys would improve relationships between the federal government and affected states, allowing lawmakers to evaluate resources which “belong to the American people,” he said.
The seismic surveys will also provide information for researchers on viable offshore wind structure sites and can help pinpoint dangers lurking on the seafloor. Location of sand and gravel resources for beach restoration and the ability to determine fair market value of offshore resources are also benefits of the survey.
In December 2016, then-President Barack Obama designated the majority of U.S-owned waterways in the Arctic Ocean as indefinitely off-limits to oil and gas leasing. This decision came in addition to a five-year drilling plan which the Obama administration said would block Atlantic drilling as well.
The Obama administration said last year that the provision would be challenging for other presidents to reverse. The 1953 law Obama based his order on provides no authority for presidents to undo supposed permanent withdrawals of oil and gas leases from the Outer Continental Shelf.