CRE recently filed comments on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Information Collection Request for BOEM’s offshore oil and gas permitting program. CRE’s comments disagreed with BOEM’s response to CRE’s comments on this ICR, which affects BOEM’s permitting process for offshore oil and gas seismic. CRE’s previous comments had requested that BOEM withdraw its petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service for a regulation under the Marine Mammal Protection Act governing the taking of marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico. BOEM’s response stated, “This comment is outside the scope of this information collection renewal.” CRE’s latest comments pointed out that CRE’s request for withdrawal is within the scope of this ICR because (citations omitted):
The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service has received a request from the U.S. Marine Corp for authorization to take bottlenose dolphin incidental to training operations at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point Range Complex over the course of seven years from the date of issuance. Pursuant to regulations implementing the Marine Mammal Protection Act, NMFS is announcing receipt of the USMC’s request for the development and implementation of regulations governing the incidental taking of marine mammals. NMFS invites the public to provide information, suggestions, and comments on USMC’s application and request. Comments and information must be received no later than November 5, 2020. Click here for more information and relevant links.
The International Association of Geophysical Contractors has posted the following position on oil and gas seismic and fisheries:
“Seismic & Fisheries:
Marine seismic surveys have been conducted since the 1950s, and experience shows that fisheries and seismic activities can and do coexist. There has been no observation of direct physical injury or death to free-ranging fish caused by seismic survey activity.
In accordance with the regulations implementing the Marine Mammal Protection Act amended, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service has issued an incidental harassment authorization to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University to incidentally harass marine mammals during a marine geophysical survey in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. The authorization is effective for a period of one year, from September 1, 2020, through August 31, 2021
On March 27, 2020, NMFS received a request from L–DEO for an IHA to take marine mammals incidental to a marine geophysical survey along and across the Aleutian Andreanof Arc in Alaska. L– DEO submitted a revised version of the application, which was deemed adequate and complete, on June 25, 2020. NMFS published a proposed IHA for public review and comment on July 28, 2020 (85 FR 45389).
Editor’s Note: The International Association of Geophysical Contractors published the following position statement:
“Dolphin shutdown policies propose that seismic operations stop or ramp down for dolphins. These dolphin shutdown proposals, as mitigation measures, broadly and substantially impact seismic operations but have no corresponding environmental benefit or scientific support. Dolphins are mid- to high-frequency specialists and, therefore, are not sensitive to the low-frequency impulse sounds emitted by seismic operations in areas of high-density dolphin populations, such as the US Gulf of Mexico, shutdown requirements for a species that frequently exhibits bow-riding behavior could bring all seismic survey activity to a halt.
In NRDC v. Bernhardt, No. 2:18-cv-01882 (E.D. LA), environmental and conservation groups have sued the Department of Interior and NOAA/NMFS alleging that their regulation of oil and gas seismic in the Gulf of Mexico violates various federal laws. The case has been stayed pending settlement negotiations. On August 6, 2020, the judge in this case granted the parties’ motion to extend the stay until December 1, 2020. The parties’ stay motion made several arguments in support of this stay extension, including the fact that the rules being discussed in the potential settlement “must undergo interagency review pursuant to E.O. 12866.”
Environmental groups have sued BOEM and NMFS in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. They allege legal violations in BOEM and NMFS’ regulation of oil and gas seismic in the Gulf of Mexico. The case has been stayed during settlement negotiations.
On July 15, 2002, the court granted the parties’ motion to extend the existing stay of all proceedings in the case until August 7, 2020.
NMFS Extends Navy LOA Regulations for Hawaii and Southern California Testing and Study Area for Two Years
The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, upon request from the U.S. Navy, has published regulations pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act to govern the taking of marine mammals incidental to the training and testing activities conducted in the Hawaii Southern California Training and Testing Study Area over the course of seven years, effectively extending the time period from December 20, 2023, to December 20, 2025. In August 2018, the MMPA was amended by the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 to allow for seven-year authorizations for military readiness activities, as compared to the previously allowed five years. The Navy’s activities qualify as military readiness activities pursuant to the MMPA as amended by the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2004. These regulations, which allow for the issuance of Letters of Authorization for the incidental take of marine mammals during the described activities and timeframes, prescribe the permissible methods of taking and other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat, and establish requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking.
The U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OMB/OIRA) has been reviewing NOAA/NMFS’ draft fnal Marine Mammal Act (MMPA) Take Rules for oil and gas geological surveys (oil and gas seismic) in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). OMB /OIRA’s review has been conducted under Presidential Executive Order 12866. OMB/OIRA concluded their review June 11, 2020, and issued a statement that states in part “Economically Significant: Yes” and “COMPLETED ACTION: Withdrawn.”
These statements apply to the draft final GOM Take Rules, which cannot be published as Final Rules without OMB/OIRA approval under Executive Order 12866.
The parties in the GOM Take Rule litigation in Louisiana Federal Court asked the judge to extend the case deadline extension for settlement discussions to June 10, 2020. The judge has granted their request.