Guest post by David Middleton
The gray area on the map below is basically off limits to oil & gas operations. It’s right next to the Central Gulf of Mexico and its prolific oil & gas production… Kind of analogous to Prudhoe Bay and ANWR Area 1002.
Offshore drilling is not a fit for Florida: Guestview
Francis Rooney, Guest columnist Published 9:00 a.m. CT Dec. 1, 2017
Offshore drilling and related activities, including seismic testing, have no place in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. The moratorium on exploration in the Eastern Gulf established in 2006 will expire in 2022 unless Congress acts. It is imperative for the future of Florida and our tourism-based economy that this bi-partisan effort to extend the moratorium succeed. I believe that I have some credibility on this issue, having served on the board of one of the world’s leading land and offshore drilling firms for almost twenty years, Helmerich & Payne, Inc. (HP). In addition to its own offshore rigs, HP was the contractor on the Shell Oil’s huge MARS platform in the Gulf, and owned a major interest in Atwood Oceanics, a premier operator of drill ships. We have our own family working interests in oil and gas, and I served for many years on the board of Laredo Petroleum, Inc., and our private exploration and production company based in Bogota, Colombia.
The Eastern Gulf is of critical importance to our national security due to the flight training and testing that takes place from our numerous bases in the panhandle and around Tampa to Naval Air Station Key West. The Eastern Gulf is the largest training ground for the United States military in the world. For this reason, the Department of Defense (DoD) fully supports extending the moratorium on offshore drilling in the Eastern Gulf. In response to a letter to the Department of Defense, which 14 of my Florida colleagues and I sent in March, A.M. Kurta, the acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, responded that it is of “vital importance” to maintain the moratorium.
Aside from security concerns, offshore drilling in the Eastern Gulf will adversely impact our environment.
Francis Rooney is the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 19th congressional district. He is the vice-chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and serves on the Committee on Education and the Workforce. He previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.
With all due respect to Congressman Rooney, he’s wrong about almost everything.
Congressman Rooney: “Aside from security concerns…”
There are no genuine security concerns.
Eastern Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Exploration and Military Readiness
For many years, senior DoD civilian and military officials consistently reported that their forces were having an increasingly difficult time carrying out realistic training and testing due to constraints caused by encroachment on military ranges and installations from a myriad of factors, including munitions restrictions, transient ships or aircraft, electronic spectrum limitations, critical habitats, and adjacent water or land use by civilian or commercial entities, including offshore oil and natural gas facilities. However, upon examining the issue closely, it becomes readily apparent that, at the time, they had no factual basis for making those claims. Despite direction from Congress, until last year DoD had failed to adequately collect and analyze data regarding training and testing constraints due to encroachment.
Therefore, after conducting extensive research on the issues and completing a thorough analysis of the data, it is our conclusion that opening further portions of the Gulf of Mexico east of the Military Mission Line to oil and gas field exploration and development will not come at the expense of feasibly, sufficiently, and adequately accomplishing military training and testing missions. We do not believe that expanding oil and gas exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf within the Gulf of Mexico and pursuing national security goals are mutually exclusive actions.
Aside from the lack of genuine security concerns, there could be quite a bit of oil & gas to be recovered…
Congressman Rooney: “Seismic testing to evaluate conditions for oil exploration may harm fish and marine mammal populations.”
There is zero-point-zero evidence that marine seismic surveying has harmed marine life in the Gulf of Mexcio… And a helluva lot of seismic data have been shot in the Gulf.
Seismic data has even been acquired all over the West Florida Shelf.
Marine airguns are no louder than many other naturally occurring and anthropogenic “sounds in the marine environment”…
There are many natural sources of sound within the marine environment: wind, rain, waves, marine mammal vocalizations and the sounds made by other marine life all contribute to relatively high levels of ambient sounds. Other natural events such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and lightning strikes produce short-lived high intensity sounds underwater.
In addition, there are many man-made (anthropogenic) sources of sound in the ocean. Theseinclude shipping, fishing, sonar (used for navigation, fishing and defence), construction,dredging, military activities as well as seismic surveys. Each of these sources, whether naturalor anthropogenic, has different frequencies and intensities in the marine environment.
Since sound is common in the marine environment, animals have evolved strategies to use sound and manage successfully in sound-filled environments. Potential impact, if any, of a specific sound depends on its characteristics, the species receiving the sound and other characteristics of the marine environment.
Sound characteristics (see inset overleaf) include how loud a sound is perceived, the duration and sound type, whether the sound is considered impulsive (transient) or continuous (ongoing) and the sound’s frequency (pitch).
A seismic acoustic source array emits a sound that lasts less than 0.1 second. It is typically repeated every 10 to 15 seconds as the seismic vessel moves along a straight ‘data acquisition’ line at a speed of about 5 knots for many kilometres. After which the vessel will move to another acquisition line and may return to the area many hours later.
WHY DO WHALES BEACH THEMSELVES?
When it comes to why whales beach themselves scientists haven’t been able to find a clear answer but have had many speculations and ideas as to why this may occur.
Whales beaching themselves have been recorded throughout history.
In fact historical records indicate that whales have been beaching themselves since at least 300 B.C., however scientists are discovering that whale stranding’s appear to be occurring more frequently and in larger numbers than previously known and while scientists are unclear as to whether this increase in numbers is simply due to more people reporting stranding’s or because the number of stranding’s has actually increased due to human factors it has raised some concerns in the eyes of marine biologists, activists and whale lovers.
While no definite answer can be given as to the cause of whale beaching’s and whether or not they are actually increasing in recent times we can assume that at least some of these concepts and ideas may be contributing to the cause of whale beaching’s.
Below you can find several possible causes that may contribute to the beaching of whales.
12 POSSIBLE REASONS WHY WHALES BEACH THEMSELVES
1) Injuries from collisions with boats, ships and other man-made aquatic machines.
2) Water pollution
3) Confusion due to man-made sonar
Some biologists and scientists speculate that whales may become disoriented, sick and confused by the use of man-made sonar which may interfere with a whales brainwaves or use of echolocation causing the whale to lose its sense of direction and beach itself.
4) Natural diseases
5) Attacks from sharks or other marine mammals
6) Poison from various aquatic species
7) Changes or abnormalities in the earths magnetic field
9) Traumas caused by various aquatic elements in the environment
10) Changes in the weather and ocean caused by global warming
11) The whale has already died
12) Following the pack
Conspicuously absent from the list are marine seismic surveys. Sonar is the closest match: “Some biologists and scientists speculate that whales may become disoriented, sick and confused by the use of man-made sonar.” I like how they differentiate biologists from scientists. Like sonar, some biologists speculate that marine airguns may cause whale beachings, despite a total lack of evidence.
6. STRANDING AND MORTALITY
Marine mammals close to underwater detonations of high explosive can be killed or severely injured, and the auditory organs are especially susceptible to injury (Ketten et al., 1993; Ketten, 1995). Airgun pulses are less energetic and their peak amplitudes have slower rise times. To date, there is no evidence that serious injury, death, or stranding by marine mammals can occur from exposure to airgun pulses, even in the case of large airgun arrays. Additionally, Hilcorp’s project will use low-intensity sonar equipment in shallow water. NMFS does not expect any marine mammals will incur injury or mortality in the shallow waters off Beaufort Sea or strand as a result of the proposed geohazard survey.
And despite this total lack of evidence, marine geophysical contractors take extreme precautions in order to avoid disturbing marine mammals.
In spite of a lack of evidence linking seismic surveys to strandings, geophysical contractors have implemented industry-wide mitigation practices to avoid impacts on marine species. Regulators and seismic surveyors establish a marine mammal exclusion zone before beginning operations, and they hire trained observers with the authority to stop operations if a sensitive species is spotted within the exclusion zone. Operators also gradually ramp up sound emissions and move their vessels slowly, in order to allow marine mammals to move away from the area before full operation begins.
The geophysical industry is committed to conducting offshore activities in an environmentally responsible manner, including compliance with mitigation and monitoring guidelines and regulations. More than four decades of worldwide seismic surveying and various scientific research indicate that the risk of direct physical injury to marine mammals is extremely low. In addition, there is no scientific evidence that demonstrates biologically significant negative impacts on marine life populations. Nevertheless, the members of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC) support measures that are proportionate to the potential risk and based on the best available science to minimize any potential impact of their operations.
Mitigation and monitoring must be proportionate to the potential risks identified by an environmental assessment and specific to the local environment and the operation being undertaken. Measures commonly used by the seismic industry include timing seismic surveys to avoid known areas of biological significance, such as whale foraging or breeding areas or avoiding seasonal marine life occurrences such as peak whale and dolphin activity seasons or migration.
Before a seismic operation begins, visual monitoring is undertaken to check for the presence of marine mammals and other marine species within a specified precautionary, or exclusion zone, often using dedicated marine mammal observers (MMOs) or protected species observers (PSOs).
Further monitoring may be done using passive acoustic monitoring technology (PAM), which may detect vocalizing marine animals, especially during low visibility and nighttime conditions. In the event marine animals are detected in the exclusion zone, seismic operation will not begin for a certain time period until the marine animal moves away. Similarly, a seismic survey will shut down if the marine animal is observed entering the exclusion zone once operations have begun.
Soft-start or ramping-up procedures are undertaken by seismic vessels as a matter of general operational procedure. Soft starts involve activating a small section of the acoustic sound arrays over a period of time, gradually getting louder until the full acoustic array is operating. This measure also allows a marine animal to swim away before the acoustic source is activated at full strength.
Congressman Rooney: “There is no place in our shallow bays to locate … the numerous offshore supply vessels (OSV’s) and barges supplying the rigs and platforms.”
There is no place in our shallow bays, full of recreational vessels, to locate the tank farms, docks, steel mooring balls, and other equipment which are necessary to support the numerous offshore supply vessels (OSV’s) and barges supplying the rigs and platforms. All of this would radically undermine Florida’s coastal ecosystems.
These environmental concerns directly impact Florida’s economy and residents. Our economies depend on tourism, which requires clean beaches and healthy ecosystems.
Mr. Rooney, Florida may not have adequate port facilities to support Eastern Gulf of Mexico exploration & production operations, but Mobile, Alabama does.
Most of the recognized oil & gas potential in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico is closer to Mobile than it is to Tampa.
The activity would focus on the Jurassic Norphlet and Smackover plays south of Mobile Bay and the Florida panhandle. Support operations and shore bases would be located in the Mobile Bay area… because they are already there.
For further reference on the oil & gas plays of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico
- EASTERN US GULF OF MEXICO Destin Dome may yet revive Eastern Gulf of Mexico, 1997
- West Florida shelf and slope prime target for gas, oil in eastern Gulf of Mexico, 2001
- EASTERN GULF OF MEXICO-1: A look at regional deposition under W. Florida shelf, slope, 2002
- BOEM Assessment of Technically Recoverable Hydrocarbon Resources of the Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf, 2011
- Offshore Florida: Regional Perspective, 2011
- Puzzling Salt Structures, 2015
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About the Author
David Middleton works for the evil oil industry. He has 36 years of experience as a geologist/geophysicist working for “Little Oil” (as opposed to Big Oil). He is a member of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) and Houston Geological Society (HGS).
The Norphlet Play is the perfect example of offshore drilling not having to be a a “fit for Florida.”
The first offshore discovery in the Jurassic Norphlet sandstone was made by Mobil Oil Company in 1979. As of 2010, Norphlet fields in the Mobile Bay area had produced 4.5 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas. Chevron and Murphy Oil made a Norphlet discovery in Federal waters of Destin Dome area offshore Florida in 1985; however the State of Florida prevented them from developing it. A total of three wells were drilled. The subsequent moratorium has prevented the development of this field for 32 years. The leases (Destin Dome blocks 56 and 57) are still held through a “suspension of operations” (SOO) agreement until 2022.
Shell extended the Norphlet play out into deepwater with its Shiloh discovery in 2003. Shiloh turned out to be non-commercial; but Shell followed it up with a series of commercial oil discoveries they are currently developing. As you can see on the map. Most of the Norphlet play is “off limits,” despite the fact that its development would have no more negative impact on Florida than the Norphlet activity just to the west of the “off limits” line. For that matter, Florida would actually share in the royalty revenues generated from the production.