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US judge pauses Atlantic oil, gas seismic permits during shutdown




By Brian Scheid / Platts


Petroleumworld 01 22 2019

A federal judge on Friday blocked the US Interior Department from issuing permits for seismic testing for oil and natural gas reserves along the US East Coast, at least until the ongoing partial government shutdown ends.

In a 10-page order, Richard Gergel, a district judge of the US District Court for the District of South Carolina, wrote that Interior cannot finalize these permits while US attorneys are unable to respond to legal challenges to the seismic testing during the shutdown.

"The Federal Defendants argue that funding will likely be restored by March 1, 2019, avoiding any such problem," Gergel wrote in his order Friday. "However, unless Department of Justice counsel are aware of a resolution date to the longest Government shutdown in American history that they have not shared with the Court, predicting the date of the restoration of funding falls within the category of rank speculation."

The order was part of a lawsuit initially filed by nine environmental groups last month aimed at blocking the seismic tests in the Atlantic.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries on November 30 issued the final authorizations for five companies to conduct geophysical surveys using airgun arrays in the Atlantic Ocean. During the shutdown, Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had paused an environmental review that would determine whether to approve permits for these seismic tests, but last week Interior recalled about 40 BOEM employees to work on several offshore oil and gas initiatives, including the seismic permitting.

"The government was trying to have its cake and eat it too, and we're pleased the Court did not allow that to happen," Laura Cantral, executive director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, said in a statement Friday.

Interior did not respond to a request for comment.

The Trump administration tentatively plans to hold two Atlantic lease sales in 2020, one for drilling rights in the South Atlantic and one for rights in the Mid-Atlantic. They would be the first of nine Atlantic sales the administration has included in its draft proposed leasing plan for 2019 through 2024.



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Story by Brian Scheid; Edited by Annie Siebert from Platts.

01 21 2019

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