NMFS Issues Cook Inlet Seismic IHAs to Union Oil and Marathon
On October 2, 2007, the National Marine Fisheries Service published notice that it has changed the effective date for an Incidental Hazard Authorization ("IHA") previously issued to Union Oil Company of California. On the same day, NMFS published notice that it has issued an IHA to Marathon Oil Company.
Both IHAs are issued under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and both authorize the companies' seismic oil and gas explorations in the northwest portion of the Cook Inlet, Alaska. NMFS changed the effective date for the UOCC IHA because weather prevented the company from beginning seismic exploration on the original effective date of its IHA.
The IHAs are issued pursuant to certain mitigation congitions, which include seismic radius safety zones of 454 meters for cetaceans, and 140 meters for pinnipeds. These safety radii must be monitored by on-ship visual observers and by helicopters.
The NMFS Federal Register notice is remarkable for its response to the following comment by the Humans Society of the United States:
"Comment 4: The HSUS urges NMFS to deny the IHAs per its comments
provided in February 2007 on NMFS' proposed IHA issuance to CPAI and
UOCC's seismic surveys in Cook Inlet. The HSUS states that impacts from
this sort of noise is dangerous for the fragile stocks of marine
mammals in Cook Inlet.
Click here to read NMFS Federal Register notice
Response: NMFS disagrees. NMFS has addressed HSUS's previous
comments in its Federal Register notice for the issuance of two IHAs to
CPAI and UOCC (72 FR 17118, April 6, 2007). The HSUS did not provide
any scientific data or references to support its claim as the airgun
noises in the proposed seismic surveys are ``dangerous'' to the marine
mammal stocks in Cook Inlet. Detailed analyses of underwater noise,
especially those from airguns, and impacts to marine mammals are
provided in various documents related to the proposed projects. These
include (1) Federal Register notice for the issuance of IHAs to CPAI
and UOCC (72 FR 17118, April 6, 2007), (2) Federal Register notice for
the proposed issuance of IHAs to UOCC and MOC (72 FR 45014, August 10,
2007), (3) an EA for the CPAI and UOCC seismic surveys, and (4) the
draft SEA for the UOCC and MOC seismic surveys. All these analyses,
which are supported by extensive scientific research and data, point
out that the proposed seismic surveys in Cook Inlet will have
negligible impacts on marine mammal species and stocks in Cook Inlet."