Regulation of Pre-lease Exploration

The Geological and Geophysical (G&G) Permitting Process


Pre-lease Exploration Icon

The general purpose of BOEM pre-lease regulations is to ensure that pre-lease exploration, prospecting, and scientific research operations in Federal waters do not interfere with each other, with existing lease operations, or with other uses on the OCS. Pre-lease regulations also encourage data acquisition while adequately protecting the investment of data gathered and still assuring equal access and competitive balance. Adherence to these regulations will ensure that exploration and research activities will be conducted in an environmentally safe manner.

Pre-lease permits, issued individually by Region, set forth the specific details for each data-gathering activity, including the timing of activity, approved equipment and methods, and other information relevant to each specific permit.

Information required in the permit application for geophysical activities includes: vessel data, a description of the energy source and receiving array, total energy output, number of impulses per linear miles, towing depth, navigation system to be used, estimate of area to be surveyed, description of final processing, estimated completion date and a map, and a plat or chart showing latitude, longitude, block numbers, and total line miles or blocks proposed.

Photo of layering sedimentary rocks

With respect to geological activities, the following types of information are identified in the permit application: description of drilling methods or sampling, equipment to be used, estimated bore holes or sample locations, navigation system, method of sampling, description of analyzed or processed data, estimated completion date, and a map, plat, or chart showing latitude and longitude, specific block numbers, and total number of borings and samples.

For each approved application, the operator receives a signed copy of the permit that outlines policies regarding reporting, submission, inspection, and selection of data, reimbursement, disclosure of information, possible sharing of data with affected states, and policies regarding permit modifications.

Each Region has unique environmental concerns and these are addressed through mitigating measures at the Regional level.

After data have been collected by permittees, BOEM selectively acquires data that are needed to update the existing database. Industry uses these data to determine the areas having potential for oil and gas production. Oil companies also use these data for preparing bids for lease sales. BOEM may also acquire data that have been collected for scientific research activities for which an approved permit or filing of notice is required.

Geological and Geophysical Permitting Trends

BOEM tracks G&G permits by calendar year. Total permit counts demonstrate that most OCS oil and gas activity has been in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico has issued 82 percent of all permits and is followed by the Alaska Region with 9 percent. The Pacific Region has issued 7 percent of the permits, followed by the now defunct Atlantic Region with about 2 percent (since 1994 activities in the Atlantic have been assigned to the Gulf of Mexico Region). These statistics correlate extremely well with the dominant position of the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico planning areas in OCS oil and gas activities.

Seismic Data Cube

It should be noted that since 1969, approximately 95 percent of the permits issued were for geophysical exploration and that geological exploration permits accounted for only 5 percent. While the total number of 3-D permits compared to all permits issued is rather small (8 percent) when compared with the total geophysical permits issued, over the past 10 years, 3-D permits have averaged 49 percent of all geophysical permits. Permits for deep stratigraphic test wells or COST wells account for about 2 percent of the geological permits.

The overall trends in permitting for all the Regions (i.e. Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and the Pacific) are similar and reflect fluctuations in the price and supply of petroleum. Some regional differences related to leasing moratoria, operating conditions affect hydrocarbon discoveries.

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