CONTRARY to The Free Lance–Star’s Dec. 6 editorial [“Virginia should challenge seismic testing plans”], the Trump administration’s announcement regarding seismic surveying in the Atlantic is great news for all Virginians.

This announcement is a significant step for updating decades-old estimates of natural gas and oil reserves in federal waters on the outer continental shelf off the coast of Virginia.

As we gather information about what energy assets may exist in the Atlantic, we are one step closer to helping to support reliable, affordable domestic energy resources and a stronger Virginia economy for decades to come.



While this development is important to advancing discussions on the benefits offshore energy could bring to Virginia, there is much misinformation out there regarding seismic surveying that requires correction.

Seismic testing is a heavily regulated, scientifically guided practice that can only occur after a lengthy review by the federal government. Permits outline guidelines the industry must follow for the duration of testing, and ensure minimal impacts on marine life.

Opponents frequently cite scientific studies as the backbone of their position. However, they choose to ignore the scientific support published during the Obama administration that stated: “There has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from air guns used in geological and geophysical seismic activities adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities.”

This came directly from William Brown, the chief environmental officer for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, in 2014—just five years ago.

Seismic surveys are temporary, and they are necessary to gauge the potential amount of energy resources that exist off our coast. These types of tests are not exclusive to the natural gas and oil industry and are also used by the renewable energy industry with little fanfare.

Seismic testing is not a dangerous practice. Rather, it is a process that, through the use of modern technology, can occur with minimal impacts on the environment and marine life.

Seismic testing is essential to gathering information relevant to making important long-term decisions related to energy production—whether it is wind, natural gas or oil.

In addition to ignoring the science and industry experience supporting the safety of seismic testing, opponents in Virginia frequently cite the military as an obstacle to surveying and energy development. This could not be further from the truth.

In 2017, the Department of Defense submitted a letter supporting the Trump administration’s intentions to expand American energy resources by exploring offshore areas previously blocked from natural gas and oil development. DoD is consistently the largest consumer of energy in the country, and often finds itself defending access to energy resources all around the world.

The department has proven that energy security and military superiority are not mutually exclusive.

The offshore industry already coordinates directly with the DoD in the Gulf of Mexico, where 36 percent of active leases exist in military operating areas. Virginia’s military assets are more than capable of successfully coordinating with the offshore industry to ensure that both seismic testing and any possible energy development do not interfere with the location of assets and important training areas.

As we continue to wait on further decisions to advance offshore energy exploration, I look forward to continuing productive dialogue with other supporters, opponents, and anyone interested in learning more about the benefits Virginia could realize from offshore energy development. This economic opportunity would help improve a state economy that is continually striving to diversify and become less dependent on federal spending.

Thousands of new, high-paying jobs, millions in tax revenue, and billions in industry spending could have countless benefits for all residents of Virginia.

Seismic surveying is the first step towards having an informed conversation about recognizing Virginia’s energy potential, and I look forward to reviewing the results once studies are complete.

Mike Watson previously represented Virginia’s 93rd District in the House of Delegates. He is the founder/CEO of Control Automation Technologies Corporation and chairs Virginia’s Explore Offshore Coalition.

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