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Erik Milito's remarks at press briefing on Atlantic seismic surveys

Press briefing on Atlantic seismic surveys
Erik Milito, API director upstream and industry operations
Thursday, February 27, 2014

Opening statement as prepared for delivery:

Good morning.

The Department of the Interior is about to take a critical step impacting American energy production, job creation and energy security in the years ahead.

We expect that today or tomorrow, the government will release its final environmental impact statement for proposed seismic surveys in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf, or OCS. Seismic surveys are an advanced exploration technique used to locate potential oil and natural gas reserves. A positive environmental impact statement, or EIS, would move the government closer to allowing new exploration for oil and natural gas in the Atlantic.

Remember, the energy we have today results from plans set in motion years ago. To continue America’s energy renaissance in the future, we must explore and plan for the future now.

Surging oil and natural gas production onshore has sparked an energy and manufacturing revolution in America. But offshore, 87 percent of federal waters remain closed to energy exploration.

A recent report projects large economic gains from removing the unnecessary obstacles to responsible energy development in the Atlantic. According to the study conducted by Quest Offshore Resources, oil and natural gas development in the Atlantic OCS between 2017 and 2035 could:

• Create nearly 280,000 new jobs along the East Coast and across the country;

• Generate an additional $195 billion in private investment on oil and natural gas activity;

• Contribute up to $23.5 billion per year to the U.S. economy;

• Add 1.3 million barrels of oil equivalent per day to domestic energy production, which is about 70% of current output from the Gulf of Mexico;

• And raise $51 billion in new revenue for the government.

The economic benefits of opening the Atlantic to offshore oil and natural gas development will be felt all across the country, with the largest impacts appearing in states like Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

In order to achieve these gains, the government must permit seismic surveys in the Atlantic and hold Atlantic lease sales under the next five-year plan for offshore oil and natural. That plan will cover lease sales from the second half of 2017 to the first half of 2022.

Seismic surveys work by recording how sound waves generated near the surface reflect off the rocks beneath the ocean floor. These recordings allow scientists to produce detailed 3-dimensional maps that give engineers the information they need to identify the safest and most efficient drilling locations.

In many cases these maps allow companies to rule out prospects that would have been drilled in the past. This eliminates costly dry wells and reduces the environmental footprint of offshore drilling.

Seismic surveys have been conducted safely for decades in the Gulf of Mexico, other areas in the U.S., and around the world, but the last surveys of the U.S. Atlantic OCS took place about 30 years ago. Since that time, technological advances have dramatically improved our ability to pinpoint likely reservoirs.

That means existing resource estimates for this area are out of date. New surveys using state-of-the-art techniques and technology would provide a better understanding of the oil and natural gas resource potential off our Atlantic coast.

Secretary Jewell and elected officials up and down the Atlantic Coast have recognized the need for this new information to allow policy makers to make informed decisions on future uses of the oceans.

Like all offshore operations, seismic surveys are highly regulated, and surveyors follow strict guidelines to protect marine life. The process begins with a “soft-start” – a technique that gradually increases sound levels, allowing animals that may be sensitive to this sound time to leave the area.

Onboard visual observers and acoustic monitoring devices are also used. If they detect sensitive marine life in the vicinity, then all operations stop immediately and are restarted only when the area is clear.

After the publication of the environmental impact statement, the next step for the government is to issue a record of decision on whether or not seismic surveys can be performed in the Atlantic and under what conditions those surveys could take place.

If the EIS and record of decision are positive, companies could receive permits to conduct the surveys. The permitting process for companies is not fully clear at this time, but we would hope that the government could begin approving permits in the coming months.

By permitting seismic surveys in the Atlantic and including Atlantic lease sales in the next five-year leasing plan, the Obama administration can build a long-term path to new jobs for American workers, new revenue for the government, and greater energy security for all of us.

This path has broad and bipartisan support from the public, local officials, governors and members of Congress, and our industry is ready to do its part.

We look forward to reviewing the upcoming EIS, and now I will be happy to take any questions you have.