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Following the permitting process

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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Oil and gas drilling won't be taking place off Delaware's coast in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's upcoming lease period, but seismic testing may come very close to state waters.

Seismic testing uses air guns and other equipment to locate potential oil and gas sources below the ocean floor. Before any land is leased as part of the bureau's 2017-22 plan for the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic regions, companies must first apply for permits to conduct seismic testing. Three of the eight companies seeking seismic testing permits expect to come close to First State waters.

This is a new process for state leaders, as seismic testing has never been conducted off Delaware's shores, said Sarah Cooksey, Delaware Coastal Programs environmental program administrator. Because seismic testing is not on the list of reviewable activities under Delaware's Coastal Zone Management Federal Consistency process, state officials had to make a case to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as to why the state had a stake in reviewing seismic-testing activities. NOAA limited state review to the effects of testing on fishing.

"We were only allowed to review its impacts to fishing," Cooksey said. "Fishing itself, whether people could still fish - not the impact on the fish or marine mammals."

The three companies that could impact Delaware resources during seismic testing received conditional approvals from DNREC earlier this year. Those companies still need approval from the bureau, and will be required to comply with both state and federal conditions.

While there is a 50-mile buffer on oil- and gas-drilling lease sites, seismic testing extends beyond the drilling lease areas. Two Texas-based companies that are expected to come closest to Delaware waters both plan to use air guns for seismic testing, according to their applications.

One company, Spectrum Geo Inc., said in its application that it will use mitigation techniques to reduce negative environmental impacts. Spectrum Geo Inc. President Richie Miller could not be reached by press time to outline proposed techniques. The second company, TGS, states in its application that "minimum to no adverse effects [are] expected on the environment" during its proposed seismic testing. "This is a steep learning curve for all of us," Cooksey said. "I'm glad Delaware citizens are getting engaged. It's important they know what's happening off our coast."

Only one of the eight applicants has received federal approval to pursue seismic testing in a test area that runs from Virginia's Eastern Shore to the state line dividing South Carolina and Georgia; the other seven applications are under review. According to BOEM, after data is collected from seismic testing, one lease sale is proposed in the Atlantic in 2021; the bureau's 2017-22 proposed program also includes 10 lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three lease sales off the coast of Alaska.

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Original Publication Date: November 13, 2015

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