For nearly three weeks, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s halted the permitting process that would allow geological and geophysical surveying off the Atlantic Coast — generally known as offshore energy exploration. BOEM leadership, however, indicated they want to go back to work, and a Friday order allows that to begin.
BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruickshank submitted a new declaration Wednesday as part of the effort to restart the process that U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel halted in a Jan. 18 order.
The order is part of a lawsuit brought by environmental groups — including Georgia’s One Hundred Miles — and South Carolina municipalities against the National Marine Fisheries Service, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Chris Oliver to prevent seismic air gun testing in federal Atlantic waters.
Gergel enjoined “the federal defendants and BOEM from taking official action on the pending permit applications until the court ruled on related motions to intervene by 10 coastal states,” the judge wrote in his Friday order allowing geophysical surveying companies and two allied industry groups to intervene in the lawsuit as defendants.
Cruickshank said the agency has an extensive amount of preparatory work to do before making final decisions on the “Atlantic G&G permit applications,” which are the next step following the incidental harassment authorizations that provide for seismic testing.
“For example, BOEM will need additional time to complete its analysis under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and implementing regulations…,” Cruickshank stated. “This process involves the preparation of environmental reviews in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
“BOEM’s environmental review process for the Atlantic G&G permit applications will analyze the proposed activities considering other applicable regulatory requirements to which the Atlantic G&G permit applications are subject under other federal statutes — e.g., Coastal Zone Management Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
“BOEM’s preparatory work will also include drafting, but not finalizing. decision memoranda for the permit applications, environmental analyses, and necessary permit conditions of approval that would need to be in place prior to making final decisions on the Atlantic G&G permit applications — e.g. drafting of a decision memorandum, developing permit conditions necessary to satisfy BOEM’s obligations under the Endangered Species Act.”
In addition to granting the industry intervenors’ motion, Gergel on Friday granted authorization to the nine states and South Carolina — which filed separately — to join the case as intervenor plaintiffs.
That lifts the injunction, allowing BOEM to continue its work.