WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–The Obama administration is paving the way for seismic surveys of the Atlantic Ocean that will reveal the amount of oil and natural gas that exist off the East Coast, a top Interior Department official said Tuesday.
Speaking at the Platts Energy Podium, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau said the department is conducting an environmental review of the surveys and should release a draft of that review by next summer.
The seismic surveys “will play a tremendous part in informing future decisions about whether or not the resource potential in that area is such that leasing activity should go forward,” Beaudreau said.
The existing data on oil and gas resources in the Atlantic is “decades old,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Interior Department released a five-year blueprint for oil-drilling leases and said it would not open up any federal waters in the Atlantic until at least 2017. The department cited the lack of information about oil and gas in the region, as well as concerns about oil-spill response capabilities.
There are no active drilling leases in the Atlantic currently.
The administration’s decision to block access to the Atlantic drew criticism from the oil and gas industry, as well as Virginia lawmakers who support drilling off their coast. Sen. Jim Webb (D., Va.) urged the administration to reconsider its position and said drilling projects would boost the state’s economy.
On Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute said the five-year lease plan should be expanded. It “limits what we could and should be doing to secure more domestic energy,” said API Director Erik Milito.
Beaudreau said the Obama administration does not plan “to take the mid and south Atlantic off the table in perpetuity for any potential exploration in the future.” Instead, he said the decision to block exploration for the near term was part of a “well-considered plan” to gather more information about the region’s resources and to examine potential conflicting uses.
The Defense Department has expressed concern about oil exploration in the Atlantic because of the existence of nearby naval bases, Beaudreau said.
The House Natural Resources Committee plans to hold a hearing on the new five-year plan on Wednesday.
-By Tennille Tracy, Dow Jones Newswires