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Soundings Archive

NMFS Rejects Enviro Attacks on Beaufort Seismic Permit
On August 7, 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced that it has issued a final Incidental Harassment Authorization to PGS Onshore, Inc., under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The IHA authorizes PGS to take, by harassment, small numbers of six species of marine mammals incidental to an exploratory 3D marine seismic survey in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska, in the summer and early fall of 2008. This seismic survey is part of oil and gas exploration in the Beaufort.

NMFS proposed this IHA for public comment in June 2008. Several environmental groups and other NGOs, including indigenous peoples’ groups, filed voluminous comments criticizing the IHA and demanding that it not be granted.

NMFS’ August Federal Register publication contains a lengthy comment-and-response section in which NMFS explains why the Service rejects these negative comments. This comment- and-response section provides an excellent summary of Enviro arguments against seismic operations in the Arctic, and of NMFS’ response to those arguments.

For example, the Center for Biological Diversity argued that the IHA should not be granted because CBD has petitioned to have several species of resident seals listed under the Endangered Species Act. As NMFS explained in its comment-and response section:

    “On December 20, 2007, CBD petitioned NMFS to list the ribbon seal under the ESA due to the loss of its sea-ice habitat from global warming and the adverse impacts of oil industry activities on the species. On May 27, 2008, CBD submitted a similar petition seeking listing of the spotted, bearded, and ringed seals. We request that NMFS consider the information contained in these petitions, as well as other information in its files on the status of these species, when analyzing the impacts of the proposed IHA on these increasingly imperiled species. Because the status of the ribbon, spotted, ringed, and bearded seals and other stocks is unknown, NMFS cannot conclude that surveys which will harass untold numbers of individuals of each species will have no more than a negligible effect on the stocks.

    [NMFS] Response: As required by the MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.102(a),NMFS has used the best scientific information available in making its determinations required under the MMPA. The Alaska SAR provides population estimates based on past survey work conducted in the region. PGS' survey is not expected to have adverse impacts on ice seals. The activity will last for approximately 75 days in the open-water environment of the Beaufort Sea. On March 28, 2008, NMFS published a notice of a 90day petition finding, request for information, and initiation of status reviews of ribbon, bearded, ringed, and spotted seals (73 FR 16617). The comment period for this action closed on May 27, 2008. NMFS is currently reviewing all relevant information and within 1 year Of receipt of the petition, NMFS shall conclude the review with a finding as to whether or not the petitioned action is warranted. The ribbon seal petition submitted in December, 2007, is not relevant for this survey, as ribbon seals are not found in the project area. Information contained in the May, 2008, petition does not provide sufficient evidence that NMFS' preliminary determination that only small numbers of ringed, bearded, and spotted seals would be affected as a result of PGS' seismic activity is invalid.”
The final IHA is also noteworthy because it requires acoustic monitoring in addition to visual and aerial monitoring.
  • Click here to read final IHA and NMFS’ comment-and-response

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