​CGG Canada scraps aerial survey for U.S. arctic oil amid risks to polar bears

Image: US Fish and Wildlife Service

CGG Canada Services Ltd. abandoned plans to conduct an aerial survey of potential oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge following stern warnings from U.S. government scientists the work could harm polar bears.

The risk to polar bears “is high enough that it cannot be discounted,” Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service told the company, a subsidiary of Paris-based CGG, in a June 7 letter obtained by Bloomberg News.

Company representatives did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment. CGG told the New York Times it “is not considering that kind of work” in the Arctic refuge now.

The decision is a blow to Trump administration officials who had hoped fresh geological data about oil and gas riches in the reserve would stoke bidding and interest in a planned government auction of Arctic drilling rights later this year.

Oil companies rely on data about subterranean rock formations to discern the most promising locations to drill and how much they should bid on tracts, but without CGG’s aerial survey, they now will be forced to use limited information from three-decades-old seismic research.

The potential CGG survey would have been conducted with low-flying planes making repeated, parallel passes over the refuge, while sensors measured the density of the ground below.

Interior Department officials concluded the proposed aerial research did not require a geophysical permit, since it would take place above federal land -- not on it.

But agency experts also warned CGG that noise from the low flights could disturb animals in the refuge, such as caribou, ringed seals and polar bears. The Fish and Wildlife Service urged CGG to apply for a so-called “incidental harassment authorization” that would permit CGG to disturb polar bears while conducting the survey.

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.