Companies wanting to update decades-old seismic data for the U.S. Atlantic Ocean won’t get a chance to shoot their seismic airguns after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) denied their permit applications.

The move followed the federal government’s decision in 2016 to remove the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic Planning Areas of the Atlantic Ocean from the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The six geophysical and geological (G&G) permit requests denied were all for this area.

Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, described the denial as another “black Friday announcement targeting the offshore oil and natural gas industry.”

“Most of the seismic data for the Atlantic OCS is more than three decades old, and with this decision BOEM seems determined to make sure it remains that way, keeping Americans in the dark for the foreseeable future about the true potential of valuable offshore oil and gas resources that belong to us all,” Luthi said in a Jan. 6 statement. “The only thing left to say is that January 20th cannot come soon enough.”

That’s when President-elect Donald Trump is set to be sworn in as president of the U.S., succeeding President Barack Obama whose oil and gas policies—such as those concerning methane regulations— have consistently drawn the ire of oil and gas industry leaders. Trump has been seen by many in the industry as a friend, a sentiment backed by his nominations of ExxonMobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as energy secretary, as well as his support for increasing oil and gas production and opening more federal areas to leasing.

BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said there is “no immediate need for these surveys.” Explaining reasons behind its decision, BOEM also said Jan. 6 that:

  • The information may not have been used considering the area is not up for oil and gas leasing;
  • The data may become outdated; and
  • There is a possibility that lower impact survey technology could be developed before such G&G data would be needed.

“We believe that the value of obtaining the geophysical and geological information from new airgun seismic surveys in the Atlantic does not outweigh the potential risks of those surveys’ acoustic pulse impacts on marine life,” Hopper said.

Luthi said the decision contradicts BOEM’s conclusion that seismic surveys are environmentally safe. Similar words were shared by Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry research for the American Petroleum Institute.

“Additionally this is a decision that, at its core, denies the opportunity for private industry to conduct scientific, geologic research that will be used by academia, government and industry alike for important educational and research purposes,” Milito said. “We are hopeful the incoming administration will reverse this short-sighted course and base its decisions on facts so that we can have a forward-looking energy policy to help keep energy affordable for American consumers and businesses, help create jobs, and strengthen our national security.”

The companies denied permits were TGS, GX Technology Corp., WesternGeco LLC, CGG Services (US) Inc., Spectrum Geo Inc. and PGS.

Velda Addison can be reached at