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Top BOEM Official Addresses Scientists' Concerns about Potential for Redundancy in Seismic Surveying

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries
North Atlantic Right Whale Mother and Calf

Officials with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management are reviewing ten permit applications from eight companies seeking to conduct seismic testing off the coast of North Carolina. 

Last month, WHQR’s weekly talk show, CoastLine, hosted a science panel to discuss potential impacts of seismic testing.  After the show, we raised the panel’s concern over redundancy in the surveying process with Walter Cruickshank.  He’s the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency overseeing offshore activities. 


RLH:  Are there restrictions on the number of permits that can be issued for seismic testing in the mid-Atlantic?

WC:  There are no restrictions on the number that can be issued over time.  There are mitigation measures – including minimum separation distance between surveys that are occurring simultaneously. 

But there are a lot of companies out there that are interested in running seismic.  Whether all of them actually go out there and conduct our surveys will depend on whether they’re able to find folks that are interested in the information in their particular survey.  So there may be a lot of folks that start the application process, but perhaps not all of them will end up following through. 

RLH:  So at this point you’re saying it is possible that multiple operators could get permits for a particular area and shoot surveys on different days but in the same area.  That’s possible?

WC:  Yeah, the surveys could overlap geographically.  They just would not be able to be shooting simultaneously without abiding by the minimum separation distance. 

RLH:  Dr. Doug Nowacek of Duke University raised the prospect of another approach – conducted off the West African coast.  He said it may have been the Angolan government that sponsored its own large seismic survey.  The government then owned the data and sold it to all the companies to do their own processing.  That way, surveys are shot once.  Has there been a conversation along those lines at BOEM?  Is something like that a possibility?  To cut down…

WC:  There’s been conceptual discussions in the past about what it would take for the government to be able to run seismic surveys and provide the data.  These are fairly expensive operations, however, and in this budget environment it’s unlikely that we would be able to get the funds necessary as a government to be able to run the sorts of surveys that are being talked about here.

RLH:  When you’re looking at a potential scenario then, in which different operators or the same operator can shoot a survey in the same area – just abiding by the limitations that you’ve already laid out, is there any concern among the folks at BOEM about unnecessary redundancy and the fact that you could have ten times the impact versus a one-time impact?

WC:  I think it’s important to recognize up front that we’ve put in a very strong suite of protections, mitigation measures, for any survey that’s conducted to reduce and minimize any impact that might occur.  So, we are fairly confident that any given survey is not going to have the sort of detrimental impacts that some folks have feared. 

Nevertheless, you raise a good point about the fact that there may be multiple surveys and thus spread out the amount of time during which animals are exposed to noise, and that is not something that we’re wild about but under the law, we don’t get to pick and choose which company can be selected over another one in terms of having rights to conduct surveys. 

Normally what happens is the market sort of sorts that out, and then if two companies are running essentially the same survey, probably only one of them will get the funding from oil and gas companies to proceed.

RLH:  Walter Cruickshank, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

WC:  It was my pleasure.


To listen to the CoastLine edition featuring this topic, follow this link: 


Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.