Interior is processing offshore oil permits despite drilling pause

The Interior Department is reviewing permits from companies interested in exploring the coast for potential sources of oil, despite the agency announcing a pause in its offshore drilling plans, Reuters reported Monday.

Interior is reportedly in the process of reviewing permits for seismic testing, a process that blasts air below the water to create sound waves that can be used to map out natural resources. The method is strongly opposed by environmental groups as it serves as a precursor to drilling and also alarms marine life, particularly the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

Interior did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt last week said pending lawsuits challenging the administration’s ability to drill off the Atlantic Coast and near Alaska pushed the agency to back away from the rollout of plans that were expected shortly.

“By the time the court rules, that may be discombobulating to our plan,” Bernhardt told the Wall Street Journal. “What if you guess wrong? … I’m not sure that’s a very satisfactory and responsible use of resources.”

His comments came as the agency was facing significant pressure from coastal lawmakers to forgo offshore drilling along their coastlines.

A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers introduced a bill to ban drilling off the state’s coast, and Virginia Democrats sent a letter to Bernhardt voicing opposition to drilling in their coastal waters.

Five companies have applied for permits to perform seismic blasting from Delaware to as far south as Florida.

Oceana, a marine life advocacy group, sued the administration late last year to prevent the use of seismic blasting but is still waiting to hear whether a federal judge will halt future seismic blasting while the case proceeds.

Oceana previously questioned whether offshore drilling was momentarily sidelined or halted entirely.

“Seismic airgun blasting is a major investment by industry in a future of dirty and dangerous offshore drilling,” Diane Hoskins, Oceana campaign director, said in a statement to The Hill. “A delay is good news for the drilling plan but what the public and coastal business leaders really want is for the new areas to be completely off the table.”

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