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Seismic Rift: Obama Splits With Greens On Atlantic Oil Exploration

Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Houston Chronicle

White House sides with energy companies in dispute with environmentalists

The Obama administration on Friday green-lighted a plan to allow the oil industry to search for possible oil and gas under Atlantic waters using air guns and sonic blasts that environmentalists say can harm marine life.

Although geophysical research companies still have to apply for individual permits to conduct seismic studies along the south- and mid-Atlantic coast and undergo more rigorous environmental scrutiny of their specific plans, the Interior Department’s formal decision opens the door for the activity early next year.

It also helps pave the way for possible drilling off the East Coast in the 2020s by giving the industry a new chance to prove the oil and gas potential of the area as the Obama administration assembles a five-year plan for selling offshore energy leases beginning in late 2017.

Nine companies have told the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management they want to do the work, which would represent the first geophysical data collection along the East Coast in more than three decades.

Environmentalists accused the administration of caving to the oil industry by formalizing an approach that would impose modest limitations on the seismic research instead of mandating more rigorous safeguards or barring the activity altogether.

“For more than 30 years, the Atlantic coast has been off-limits to offshore drilling,” said Claire Douglass, campaign director for the conservationist group Oceana. “Our government appears to be folding to the pressure of Big Oil and its big money.”

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