Feds override N.C. objection to offshore seismic survey for oil, natural gas off Outer Banks

A ship trails an array of seismic air guns. [photo courtesy Ocean Conservation Research]

North Carolina’s objection to WesternGeco’s proposed Bureau of Ocean Energy Management permit to conduct a geological and geophysical seismic survey for oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf has been overridden.

The decision signed by U.S. Under Secretary Of Commerce For Oceans And Atmosphere Neil Jacobs was announced Monday.

The state Department of Environmental Quality voiced Monday its disappointment with the decision to override North Carolina’s Coastal Zone Management Act consistency objection to WesternGeco’s proposal to conduct geological and geophysical, or seismic, surveys off the North Carolina coast.

WesternGeco appealed North Carolina’s finding last year that its proposed survey was inconsistent with state enforceable policies because of adverse effects to recreational and commercial fisheries. The decision to override the state’s objection to the proposed survey was announced Monday.

The effect of this decision is that the state Division of Coastal Management’s consistency objection no longer prohibits the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from issuing a permit to WesternGeco. Numerous studies, including several new studies completed in the last few years, indicate the proposed seismic testing poses an unacceptable threat to North Carolina’s marine life and its coastal recreational and commercial fisheries, according to NCDEQ officials.

“This proposed seismic testing for oil and gas exploration has no place off our coast,” said NCDEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan.  “Our coastal resources are too precious to risk from these proposed activities. We stand with all of the coastal communities who have made their opposition to the proposed seismic testing and offshore oil and gas clear.”

North Carolina can appeal the decision to the federal courts and the state said it is reviewing next steps.

Coastal leaders and state officials have signed signed a resolution to oppose seismic testing and the offshore drilling that would follow.