I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jeffrey Vorberger, the vice president for policy and government affairs at the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA). NOIA is the only national trade organization representing all segments of the offshore energy industry. Vorberger is responsible for leading NOIA’s outreach and advocacy strategies with external stakeholder groups, with particular emphasis on Atlantic coastal states and communities. His six years with NOIA also include leading the organization’s policy and legislative agenda before Congress.
Recently, Vorberger’s work has dealt mostly with seismic surveying. As North Carolinians, we know this is a big issue along our coast. We are concerned with the potential dangers to the environment and want to better understand the impacts the data could have on industry in our state. He gave me the following answers to some frequently asked questions.
Is seismic surveying safe? What evidence exists to prove it?
The geophysical industry has demonstrated for nearly 50 years its ability to operate seismic and other geophysical exploration activities in an environmentally safe and responsible manner. The federal government affirms that sound from geophysical surveys has not been found to be injurious to marine life. In the March 4, 2014, Federal Register (Vol. 79, No. 42, Page 12166), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), stated, “To date, there is no evidence that serious injury, death or stranding by marine mammals can occur from exposure to [seismic air source] pulses, even in the case of large [source] arrays.” In its August 22, 2014 Science Notes, BOEM stated, “To date, there has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from [seismic air sources] used in geological and geophysical (G&G) seismic activities adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities …”
Is seismic surveying new to the Atlantic?
Most folks don’t realize that seismic research has been conducted in U.S. Atlantic waters for decades, including 2014, when a federally funded academic study utilizing seismic technology was conducted offshore from North Carolina. We didn’t see any mass stranding of marine mammals or dire consequences to the fishing industry as predicted by professional environmental organizations. Likewise, in the 1970s and 1980s extensive seismic research was conducted from Maine to Florida for the oil and natural gas industry, again with no negative impacts to sea life or coastal industries. This safety record is true around the globe going back generations. But the old Atlantic seismic data is now technologically irrelevant when viewed against today’s capabilities. Simply put, we can “see” offshore oil and gas deposits much better than we could 30 years ago. The public also will see the end results of any modern seismic research data, which is shared with the federal government, when the feds update their resource estimates accordingly. Seismic research ensures future decisions on leasing and drilling are well-informed and not made blindly. It is in North Carolina’s best interest to see this updated information, yet the professional environmental community uses baseless, unscientific claims in an effort to keep North Carolinians blindfolded.
Many people may not know it, but seismic surveys are not new to the Atlantic OCS; they have been conducted periodically over the past 50 years. The most recent survey was conducted from June 1, 2015 to July 6, 2015, with no reported injuries or significant disturbances to marine life.
Does the oil and natural gas industry work with local businesses and industries – particularly tourism – to protect our beautiful beaches?
The lifeblood of coastal North Carolina’s economy is tourism. Countless families, including my own, enjoy regular visits to the Outer Banks and Crystal Coast and owe an enduring debt of gratitude to the local residents who graciously share their communities with us. The pride you feel for your home is not unlike that felt by residents along the Louisiana bayou, or in Long Beach, Mississippi, and Orange Beach, Alabama.
These and all Gulf coast communities share North Carolina’s reliance on tourism and commercial and recreational fishing to drive their economies. Alabama is proud of its “turquoise waters and sugar-white sands” as highlighted on the state’s official travel website. But coastal Alabama is also able to brag about a second economic engine: offshore oil and natural gas. And since 1967 and every year after, Morgan City hosts the Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival to “recognize the working men and women of both the seafood and petroleum industries, which are the economic lifeblood of the area.” In the U.S. Gulf region – as well as in nations such as Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Norway, the UK and Australia 00 – our industry partners with other ocean-dependent industries in coastal communities to ensure compatibility and cooperation.
If the industry is fortunate enough to come to North Carolina, our industry will work to partner with and complement existing businesses, not detract from them.
What are the next steps for the seismic industry in North Carolina?
We are eager to have conversations and ensure that future decisions are based on science and facts rather than speculation and hyperbole. 2016 is a very important year in determining the future of offshore energy for North Carolina. The federal government will decide whether to allow us to see behind the curtain and learn the Atlantic’s true resource potential through modern seismic research. At this early stage, our hope is that North Carolinians agree we should at least continue the conversation and learn more from each other, rather than turning on our heels and walking away.
David McGowan III is executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum Council. The North Carolina Petroleum Council is a division of American Petroleum Institute, which represents all segments of America's technology-driven oil and natural gas industry. Its 500-plus members provide most of the nation's energy. For more information, go to http://www.api.org or contact McGowan at [email protected].
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