Proposed Regulations Could Negatively Impact GOM Seismic Activity

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) plan to change requirements for how offshore oil and gas seismic surveys are conducted in the Gulf of Mexico threatens the economic and operational feasibility of doing such studies, an official with the American Petroleum Institute (API) said Thursday.

BOEM announced the availability of a draft programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) Sept. 28 that examines the potential impact of seismic survey activity on marine mammals, fish and other environmentally sensitive species in the Gulf of Mexico. Geological and geophysical (G&G) survey methods examined in the draft PEIS include deep-penetration and high-resolution seismic surveys, electromagnetic surveys, magnetic surveys, gravity surveys, remote-sensing surveys and geological and geochemical sampling, BOEM said in a Sept. 28 press statement.

The completion of a draft PEIS on G&G survey activity was a condition of a 2013 federal court settlement between BOEM and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other co-plaintiffs. In February of this year, the lawsuit was amended to require that all NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] analysis be completed by Sept. 25, 2017, BOEM spokesperson Caryl Fagot told Rigzone.

After reviewing the draft PEIS, API concluded that the draft PEIS could negatively impact Gulf seismic activity. API objects to a requirement for seismic operations to halt in the presence of dolphins. Right now, seismic operations must be stopped when whales are present, Andy Radford, API offshore senior policy advisor, told reporters in a Thursday conference call.  

Radford cited a statement in an August 2014 statement by BOEM chief environmental officer Dr. William Brown, who said that, “to date, there has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from air guns used in geological and geophysical seismic activities adversely affected marine animal populations or coastal communities.”

API is also concerned about the draft PEIS’ proposed minimum separation distance of 25 miles between two surveys running simultaneously. It is common to have more than one seismic survey being run in the Gulf, Radford commented. Additionally, API is deeply troubled by proposals to reduce the overall number of seismic surveys by 10 to 25 prercent.

“Seismic surveys are a proven, sound technology with a track record extending across decades,” Radford commented. "These surveys have made offshore exploration and production safer and more efficient. Advances in seismic imaging technology over the past 10 years have also boosted the oil and gas industry’s ability to find offshore oil and gas, particularly in the U.S. Gulf. This in turn has boosted the U.S. economy and the nation’s energy security."

BOEM is the lead agency on the draft PEIS; the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the National Marine Fisheries Service are cooperating agencies. The draft PEIS assessed G&G activity in the western, central and eastern Gulf of Mexico planning areas and adjacent state waters.

Groups such as the NRDC and the Center for Biological Diversity have said that the soundblasts of airguns used in oil and gas seismic surveys have caused injuries to marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.

Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at


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