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Soundings Archive

NMFS and MMS Act Favorably on Shell Leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort
On October 27, 2009, the U. S. National Marine Fisheries Service published Federal Register notice that NMFS has issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization to Shell Offshore Inc. and Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc. The IHA is issued under the U. S. Marine Mammal Protection Act. It authorizes Shell to take, by harassment, small numbers of 12 species of marine mammals incidental to an open-water marine survey program in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska, during the 2009/2010 Arctic open-water season. This program includes shallow hazards and site clearance work and strudel scour surveys. The IHA requires Shell to perform various mitigation measures.

This IHA is controversial. There were almost 170 pages of public comments on it when NMFS proposed the IHA during the summer of 2009. Several NGOs filed extensive comments arguing that the IHA should not be granted for a long list of alleged factual and legal reasons.

On October 19, 2009, the U.S. Minerals Management Service published a press release announcing that MMS has conditionally approved Shell's exploration plan for two leases in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska. These leases were included in the 2002-2007 five year oil and gas leasing program and are, therefore, not affected by the recent court decision on the current MMS OCS leasing program, which sent the 2007-2012 program back to MMS for additional analysis under section 18 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

MMS' press release cautions that Shell is not home free yet in the Beaufort:

    "Prior to any drilling activities taking place, the plan must be consistent with the Alaska Coastal Zone Management Program and Shell must obtain an approved Application for Permit to Drill from the MMS. Shell must also meet the air and water quality rules by the Environmental Protection Agency, and Marine Mammal Protection Act requirements of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service."
  • Click here to read NMFS' Federal Register notice of Shell IHA for the Chukchi
  • Click here to read comments on NMFS's proposed IHA for Shell in the Chukchi
  • Click here to read MMS' press release about approving Shell's lease for the Beaufort

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