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Proposed seismic surveys open to input

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A handful of Texas-based companies could conduct seismic testing off the North Carolina coast later this year, pending review by federal and state agencies that have opened the requests for public comment.

The N.C. Division of Coastal Management is currently accepting comments on four requests to test in 2015. After the state agency determines the requests consistent or inconsistent with the state’s coastal management program, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will issue or deny the permits.

Nine requests for permits to test the resources off the Atlantic coast, all from Texas-based companies, have been submitted to the federal bureau. Seven of the permit applications must be reviewed by the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, said Bureau of Ocean Energy Management spokesperson John Filostrat.

Spectrum Geo and GX Technology filed requests with the N.C. Division of Coastal Management in January, days after the federal government released a draft offshore oil and gas leasing program, effective 2017-2022, that opened the Atlantic coast to exploration; requests from CGG Services and TGS followed.

The operations would employ an envoy of two or three vessels, with at least one vessel towing an array of air guns. The guns emit acoustic signals that, after bouncing off the sea floor and back to the surface, provide estimates of the location and amount of oil and gas reserves.

Public comment on the Spectrum Geo and GX Technology requests officially closed March 2, but division spokesperson Michele Walker said the division will accept comments until a decision is reached, likely sometime around mid-April. An April 9 public hearing in Morehead City will also provide an opportunity to submit comments.

About two-dozen comments have been submitted for the requests, Walker said, mostly voicing concerns about the testing.

“Generally speaking, they are in opposition to seismic testing. … A lot of folks also expressed their opposition to offshore drilling at the same time,” Walker said.

The N.C. Coastal Federation suggested in a Feb. 27 comment that some scientific studies indicate the surveys may cause harm to protected and endangered marine species as well as the state’s fisheries and fish habitat.

Coastal federation coastal advocate Ladd Bayliss said some scientific studies also suggest the surveys pose no threat to marine life, but without clear answers, Bayliss said the federation hopes the state agency will deny the requests.

“Our stance now is, we don’t believe that it’s the right time to have these companies doing this testing because there are so many unanswered questions,” Bayliss said.

Typically tasked to issue or deny permits for coastal development projects in state waters, the Division of Coastal Management does not have direct jurisdiction over the federal waters where companies plan to conduct testing, but the division must review the submissions to assure the plans are consistent with its coastal management program. In particular, the division will consider potential impacts to marine life, Walker said, and make sure ships do not disturb important fishing areas during peak activity.

A 2014 request from the National Science Foundation to conduct seismic testing was approved by the division, but with additional mitigation measures required. If the division finds a request inconsistent, the companies can appeal to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to mediate a resolution.

For more information about the requests and submitting comments, visit http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/cm/offshore-surveys

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