[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 114 (Tuesday, June 14, 2011)]
[Notices]
[Pages 34656-34658]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-14742]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XA397


Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Geological and Geophysical 
Exploration of Mineral and Energy Resources on the Outer Continental 
Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

[[Page 34657]]


ACTION: Notice; receipt of revised application for Letters of 
Authorization; request for comments and information.

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SUMMARY: NMFS has received a revised application from the U.S. 
Department of the Interior (DOI), Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, 
Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE), formerly Minerals Management 
Service (MMS), for authorization to take marine mammals, by Level A and 
Level B harassment, incidental to oil and gas industry sponsored 
seismic surveys for purposes of geological and geophysical (G&G) 
exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) in the Gulf of Mexico 
(GOM) from approximately 2012 to 2017. Pursuant to Marine Mammal 
Protection Act (MMPA) implementing regulations, NMFS is announcing 
receipt of BOEMRE's request for the development and implementation of 
regulations governing the incidental taking of marine mammals and 
inviting information, suggestions, and comments on BOEMRE's revised 
application.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than July 14, 
2011.

ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to P. 
Michael Payne, Chief, Permits, Conservation, and Education Division, 
Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 
East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3225. The mailbox address 
for providing e-mail comments is ITP.Goldstein@noaa.gov. NMFS is not 
responsible for e-mail comments sent to addresses other than the one 
provided here. Comments sent via e-mail, including all attachments, 
must not exceed a 10-megabyte file size.
    Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record 
and will generally be posted to http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm without change. All Personal Identifying Information 
(for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the 
commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential 
Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.
    A copy of the application containing a list of the references used 
in this document may be obtained by writing to the address specified 
above, telephoning the contact listed below (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT), or visiting the Internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm. Documents cited in this 
notice may be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours, at 
the aforementioned address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Howard Goldstein or Jolie Harrison, 
Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 301-713-2289, ext. 172.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Availability

    A copy of the application containing a list of the references used 
in this document may be obtained by writing to the address specified 
above, telephoning the contact listed below (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT), or visiting the Internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm.
    Documents cited in this notice may be viewed, by appointment, 
during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address.

Background

    Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) 
direct the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) to allow, upon request, 
the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine 
mammals of a species or stock, by U.S. citizens who engage in a 
specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified 
geographical region if certain findings are made and regulations are 
issued, or if the taking is limited to harassment an Incidental 
Harassment Authorization (IHA) is issued. Upon making a finding that an 
application for incidental take is adequate and complete, NMFS 
commences the incidental take authorization process by publishing in 
the Federal Register a notice of a receipt of an application for the 
implementation of regulations or a proposed IHA.
    An authorization for the incidental taking of small numbers of 
marine mammals shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking during 
the relevant period will have a negligible impact on the species or 
stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where 
relevant). The authorization must set forth the permissible methods of 
taking, other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact 
on the species or stock(s) and its habitat, and requirements pertaining 
to the monitoring and reporting of such takings.
    NMFS has defined ``negligible impact'' in 50 CFR 216.103 as:
    ``An impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be 
reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely 
affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of 
recruitment or survival.''
    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the 
MMPA defines ``harassment'' as:
    ``Any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) Has the 
potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild 
(Level A harassment); or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine 
mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of 
behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, 
breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering (Level B 
harassment).''

Summary of Request

    NMFS published a notice of receipt of application for an incidental 
take authorization from MMS, requesting comments and information on 
taking marine mammals incidental to conducting oil and gas exploration 
activities in the GOM, on March 3, 2003 (68 FR 9991). NMFS published a 
notice of extension of comment deadline on the application in the 
Federal Register on April 3, 2003 (68 FR 16263). On November 18, 2004 
(69 FR 67535), NMFS published a notice of intent to prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement, notice of public meetings, and request 
for scoping comments, for the requested authorizations. On April 18, 
2011, NMFS received a revised complete application from the BOEMRE 
requesting an authorization for the take of marine mammals incidental 
to seismic surveys on the OCS in the GOM. The requested regulations 
would establish a framework for authorizing incidental take in future 
Letters of Authorization (LOA). These LOAs, if approved, would 
authorize the take, by Level A (injury) and Level B (behavioral) 
harassment, of 21 species of cetaceans (20 odontocetes and 1 mysticete) 
incidental to seismic surveys for purposes of G&G exploration on the 
OCS in the GOM.
    BOEMRE states that underwater noise associated with sound sources 
(i.e., airguns, boomers, sparkers, and chirpers) may expose marine 
mammals in the area to noise and pressure resulting in behavioral 
disturbance or temporary or permanent loss of hearing sensitivity.

Specified Activities

    In the revised application submitted to NMFS, BOEMRE requests 
authorization to take marine mammals, by Level A and Level B 
harassment, incidental to oil and gas industry sponsored seismic 
surveys on the OCS in the GOM. BOEMRE defines two primary categories of 
seismic surveys: (1) Deep seismic (e.g., two-dimensional [2D], three-
dimensional [3D], wide

[[Page 34658]]

azimuth surveys [WAZ]), and ocean bottom surveys [OBS], and (2) high 
resolution surveys.

Deep Seismic Surveys

    For 2D seismic surveys, a single streamer is towed behind the 
survey vessel, together with a single source or airgun array. Seismic 
vessels generally follow a systematic pattern during a survey, 
typically a simple grid pattern for 2D work with lines no closer than 
half a kilometer (km). A 2D survey may take many months depending on 
the size of the geographic area.
    A 3D survey uses multiple streamers and an airgun array(s), to 
collect a very large number of 2D slices, with minimum line separations 
of only 25 to 30 meters (m) (82 to 98.4 feet [ft]). A 3D survey may 
take many months to complete (e.g., 3 to 18) and involves a precise 
definition of the survey area and transects, including multiple passes 
to cover a given survey area. For seismic surveys, 3D methods represent 
a substantial improvement in resolution and useful information relative 
to 2D methods. Most areas in the GOM previously surveyed using 2D have 
been, or will be surveyed using 3D.
    A typical 3D survey might employ a dual array of 18 airguns per 
array. The streamer array might consist of six to eight parallel 
cables, each 3 to 12 km (1.9 to 7.5 miles [mi]) long, and spaced 25 to 
100 m (82 to 328.1 ft) apart. An eight streamer array used for deep 
water surveys is typically 700 m (2,296.6 ft) wide. A series of 3D 
surveys collected over time (commonly referred to as four-dimensional 
[4D] seismic surveying) is used for reservoir monitoring and management 
(i.e., the movement of oil, gas, and water in reservoirs can be 
observed over time).
    WAZ acquisition configurations involve multiple vessels operating 
concurrently in a variety of source vessel to acquisition vessel 
geometries. Several source vessels (usually two to four) are used in 
coordination with single or dual receiver vessels either in a parallel 
or rectangular arrangement with a typical 1,200 m (3,937 ft) vessel 
spacing to maximize the azimuthal quality of data acquired. It is not 
uncommon to have sources also deployed from the receiver vessels in 
addition to source-only vessels. This improves the signal-to-noise 
ratio and helps to better define the salt and sub-salt structures in 
the deep waters of the GOM. Coiled (spiral) surveys are a further 
refinement of the WAZ acquisition of sub-salt data. These surveys can 
consist of a single source/receiver arrangement or a multi-vessel 
operation with multi-sources where the vessels navigate in a coiled or 
spiral pattern over the area of acquisition.
    Deep seismic surveys (2D, 3D, or WAZ) are typically deeper 
penetrating than high resolution surveys and may also be done on leased 
blocks for more accurate identification of potential reservoirs in 
``known'' fields. This technology can be used in developed areas to 
identify bypassed hydrocarbon-bearing zones in currently producing 
formations and new productive horizons near or below currently 
producing formations. It can also be used in developed areas for 
reservoir monitoring and field management.
    OBS surveys were originally designed to enable seismic surveys in 
congested areas, such as producing fields, with many platforms and 
production facilities. Autonomous nodes or cables are deployed and 
retrieved by either vessels or remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Nodes 
are becoming more commonly used in the GOM. OBS surveys have been found 
to be useful for obtaining multi-component (i.e., seismic pressure, 
vertical, and the two horizontal motions of the water bottom, or 
seafloor) information.
    OBS surveys require the use of multiple vessels (i.e., usually two 
vessels for cable or node layout/pickup, one vessel for recording, one 
vessel for shooting, and two utility vessels). These vessels are 
generally smaller than those used in streamer operations, and the 
utility vessels can be very small. Operations are conducted ``around 
the clock'' and begin by dropping the cables off the back of the layout 
vessel or by deployment of nodal receivers by ROVs. Cable length or the 
numbers of nodes depend upon the survey demands; it is typically 4.2 km 
(2.6 mi), but can be up to 12 km. However, depending on spacing and 
survey size, hundreds of nodes can be deployed and re-deployed over the 
span of the survey. Groups of seismic detectors, usually hydrophones 
and vertical motion geophones, are attached to the cable in intervals 
of 25 to 50 m (82 to 164 ft) or autonomous nodes are spaced similarly. 
Multiple cables/nodes are laid parallel to each other using this layout 
method with a 50 m interval between cables/nodes. Typically dual airgun 
arrays are used on a single source vessel. When a cable/node is no 
longer needed to record seismic data, it is picked up by the cable 
pickup vessel/ROV and is moved over to the next position where it is 
needed. A particular cable/node can be on the seafloor anywhere from 
two hours to several days, depending upon operation conditions. 
Normally a cable will be left in place about 24 hr. However, nodes may 
remain in place until the survey is completed or recovered and then re-
deployed by an ROV.

High Resolution Surveys

    High resolution site surveys are conducted to investigate the 
shallow sub-surface for geohazards and soil conditions, as well as to 
identify potential benthic biological communities (or habitats) and 
archaeological resources in support of review and mitigation measures 
for OCS exploration and development plans. A typical operation consists 
of a vessel towing an airgun (about 25 m behind the vessel) and a 600 m 
(1,968.5 ft) streamer cable with a tail buoy (about 700 m behind the 
vessel). Typical surveys cover one lease block, which is 4.8 km (3 mi) 
on a side. Including line turns, the time to survey one block is about 
2 days; however, streamer and airgun deployment and other operations 
may add to the total survey time. Additional information on seismic 
surveys for purposes of G&G exploration on the OCS in the GOM is 
contained in the application, which is available upon request (see 
ADDRESSES).

Information Solicited

    Interested persons may submit information, suggestions, and 
comments related to BOEMRE's request (see ADDRESSES). All information, 
suggestions, and comments related to BOEMRE's request and NMFS's 
potential development and implementation of regulations governing the 
incidental taking of marine mammals by the oil and gas industry's 
seismic surveys will be considered by NMFS in developing, the most 
effective regulations governing the issuance of Letters of 
Authorization.

    Dated: June 8, 2011.
Helen M. Golde,
Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2011-14742 Filed 6-13-11; 8:45 am]
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