Operators developing plans to work in Alaska’s offshore, notably Royal Dutch Shell plc, have faced stiff and costly opposition for years, but Gulf of Mexico (GOM) operators should be aware that a growing threat of more lawsuits could derail some projects as well, industry executives said Tuesday at the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston.
“We’ve been getting a pass in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico,” but “this is an area that really is ripe,” said International Association of Geophysical Contractors President Chip Gill. He talked about litigation concerns that may be coming in the GOM, as well as challenges to seismic surveys in the Atlantic Ocean along the East Coast.
Work on offshore facilities in the busy GOM, including the noise that goes with it, may provide a legal opening to challenge Gulf Coast development, Gill said. There is a “clear strategy” by some groups to prevent offshore development.
Last month conservation group Oceana reported that nearly 140,000 dolphins and whales could be injured if the Obama administration were to allow seismic research in the Atlantic Ocean along the East Coast. According to Oceana, sound waves may destroy marine life, including nearly 500 endangered North Atlantic right whales, while gun blasts may cause whale displacement and disrupt loggerhead sea turtles.
Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, previously directed the Department of Interior’s former Minerals Management Service, now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) (see Daily GPI, March 2, 2010). He also shared his concerns about growing litigation threats to offshore drilling.
“Alaska has seen litigation from Day 1,” Luthi told the audience. However, litigants have begun focusing more attention on fighting proposed federal decisions for other offshore activity.
For instance, BOEM has been working on a final environmental impact study, which could be ready as soon as November, to conduct an extensive seismic research program along the Atlantic Coast. The study could be a precursor to opening more offshore acreage to exploration. A draft analysis was released last year (see Daily GPI, March 29, 2012).
Groups such as Oceana opposed to offshore drilling already appear to be lining up the groundwork to challenge BOEM’s seismic study, said Luthi. One opposition group has likened seismic research to a “gateway drug” to offshore exploration, and some critics consider “seismic the first step.”
On Wednesday top regulators plan to visit the OTC to walk the exhibit floor, where more than 2,000 companies are exhibiting. More than 90,000 delegates are attending this year’s week-long conference, according to officials.
Newly sworn-in Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is set to be on hand, the first visit by an Interior secretary to the event since 2003 when Gale Norton attended. Jewell is attending with BOEM chief Tommy Beaudreau and James Watson, who is in charge of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Jewell, who formerly worked for ExxonMobil Corp. predecessor Mobil Corp., last Friday toured a deepwater GOM Ensco drilling rig and a Chevron Corp. production platform.
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