Low-Energy Offshore Geophysical Permit Program

The Commission issues non-exclusive permits to qualified operators to perform low-energy geophysical surveys of the ocean bottom and marine environment. Operators may conduct surveys using specific types of geophysical equipment - subject to permit terms and conditions that were developed to minimize impacts to marine wildlife and the coastal environment.

Program Objectives

Our goal is to reduce impacts to marine wildlife and the coastal environment from survey activities. Common permit conditions include onboard marine wildlife monitoring, the implementation of safety zones, pre-survey notifications, equipment use limitations (i.e., no high-energy equipment [airguns, water guns]), and limits on the number of hours per day equipment can operate.

Low-energy geophysical surveys acquire critical data on a variety of ocean resources and uses. The study area and survey objectives are:

  • Scientific research, including surveys of near-shore sand erosion and deposition, seafloor changes, and seafloor topography and bathymetry.
  • Surveying existing pipelines to assess any structural damage, corrosion, or spanning that could cause a pollutant release.
  • Identifying and avoiding seafloor hazards and faults when designing pipeline-and cable-laying projects, reducing the likelihood of leaks, ruptures and breakages.
  • Surveying fiber-optic cables and other seafloor structures to determine how well they are buried or if they can be snagged by fishing gear.
  • Developing maps of hard bottom and essential fish habitat or cultural resources that indicate where the placement of permanent or temporary objects (e.g., cables or anchors) should be avoided.

The Commission updated the Program in 2013 and prepared a Mitigated Negative Declaration to establish consistent guidance, limits, and permit conditions to help ensure surveys do not harm marine life and the coastal environment.

Environmental Documents and Reports

The Commission has prepared the following related environmental documents and reports: