U.S. approves plan to open Atlantic to oil reserve surveys

WASHINGTON Fri Jul 18, 2014 3:11pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, July 18, 2014.  REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, July 18, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Friday approved a plan that would allow companies to assess oil resources off the Atlantic Coast, angering environmental groups that worried the plan will harm marine life and open the door to offshore drilling.

First outlined by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in February, the plan lays out the mitigation measures companies would be required to undertake before conducting seismic testing to gauge the oil reserves in the Atlantic Ocean.

"We are taking every step we think is reasonable to take to try and put those protections in place, while still allowing surveys to occur," Acting BOEM Director Walter Cruickshank said on a press call.

BOEM emphasized that the plan does not authorize any particular seismic surveys and that companies would still have to apply for site-specific permits.

Several companies have pending applications to assess the Atlantic oil reserves. Cruickshank said surveys could begin early next year.

Green groups slammed the plan, which they said did not offer enough protection for fisheries and marine mammals and would lead to more oil and gas production. They are concerned that the underwater blasts of compressed air could wreak havoc.

"The use of seismic airguns is the first step to expanding dirty and dangerous offshore drilling to the Atlantic Ocean," Oceana campaign director Claire Douglass said in a statement.

While a decades-old ban on drilling in the Atlantic was lifted by Congress in 2008, the Obama administration canceled a planned lease sale off the Virginia coast after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The administration has begun to craft the next five-year U.S. offshore oil and gas leasing plan, which will run from 2017 to 2022.

The BOEM said the seismic testing framework does not mean a decision has been made on whether the Atlantic will be included in the new five-year plan.

(More details on the seismic testing plan can be found here: 1.usa.gov/1pk3lEQ .)

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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