[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 140 (Thursday, July 21, 2011)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 43639-43648]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-18320]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 216

RIN 0648-XA480


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Operation of the Northeast Gateway 
Liquefied Natural Gas Port Facility in Massachusetts Bay

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

ACTION: Proposed incidental harassment authorization; request for 
comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS has received an application from Tetra Tech EC, Inc., on 
behalf of the Northeast Gateway[supreg] Energy Bridge TM 
L.P. (Northeast Gateway or NEG), for authorization to take marine 
mammals, by harassment, incidental to operating a liquefied natural gas 
(LNG) port facility by NEG, in Massachusetts Bay for the period of 
August 2011 through August 2012. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal 
Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to 
issue an authorization to Northeast Gateway to incidentally take, by 
harassment, small numbers of marine mammals for a period of 1 year.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than August 
22, 2011.

ADDRESSES: Comments 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. The mailbox address for providing e-mail 
comments on this action is ITP.Guan@noaa.gov. Comments sent via e-mail, 
including all attachments, must not exceed a 10-megabyte file size. A 
copy of the application and a list of references used in this document 
may be obtained by writing to this address, by telephoning the contact 
listed here (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT) and is also available 
at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm#applications.
    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.
    The Maritime Administration (MARAD) and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) 
Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS) on the Northeast 
Gateway Energy Bridge LNG Deepwater Port license application is 
available for viewing at http://www.regulations.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shane Guan, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Sections 101(a)(5)(A)-(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 marine mammals 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, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the 
public for review.
    Authorization shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking 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), and if the permissible 
methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, 
monitoring and reporting of such taking are set forth.
    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.

    Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA established an expedited process 
by which citizens of the U.S. can apply for an authorization to 
incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals by harassment. 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].

    Section 101(a)(5)(D) establishes a 45-day time limit for NMFS 
review of an application followed by a 30-day public notice and comment 
period on any proposed authorizations for the incidental harassment of 
marine mammals. Within 45 days of the close of the comment period, NMFS 
must either issue or deny issuance of the authorization.

Summary of Request

    On April 8, 2011, NMFS received an application from Excelerate 
Energy, L.P. (Excelerate) and Tetra Tech EC, Inc., on behalf of 
Northeast Gateway for an authorization to take 13 species of marine 
mammals by Level B harassment incidental to operations of an LNG port 
facility in Massachusetts Bay. They are: North Atlantic right whale, 
humpback whale, fin whale, minke whale, long-finned pilot whale, 
Atlantic white-sided dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, 
killer whale, Risso's dolphin, harbor porpoise, harbor seal, and gray 
seal. Since LNG Port operation activities have the potential to take 
marine mammals, a marine mammal take authorization under the MMPA is 
warranted. On May 7, 2007, NMFS issued an IHA to Northeast Gateway and 
Algonquin Gas Transmission, L.L.C. (Algonquin) to allow for the 
incidental harassment of small numbers of marine mammals resulting from 
the construction and operation of the NEG Port and the Algonquin 
Pipeline Lateral (72 FR 27077; May 14, 2007). Subsequently, NMFS issued 
three one-year IHAs for the take of marine mammals incidental to the 
operation of the NEG Port activity pursuant to section 101(a)(5)(D) of 
the MMPA (73 FR 29485; May 21, 2008; 74 FR 45613; September 3, 2009, 
and 75 FR 53672; September 1, 2010). The current IHA expires on August 
30, 2011. Therefore, the company is seeking a new IHA, because it is 
believed that marine mammals could be affected by noise generated by 
operating the dynamic positioning system during the docking of LNG 
vessels at the NEG Port.

[[Page 43640]]

Description of the Activity

    The Northeast Gateway Port is located in Massachusetts Bay and 
consists of a submerged buoy system to dock specially designed LNG 
carriers approximately 13 mi (21 km) offshore of Massachusetts in 
Federal waters approximately 270 to 290 ft (82 to 88 m) in depth. This 
facility delivers regasified LNG to onshore markets via the Algonquin 
Pipeline Lateral (Pipeline Lateral). The Pipeline Lateral consists of a 
16.1-mile (25.8-kilometer) long, 24-inch (61-centimeter) outside 
diameter natural gas pipeline which interconnects the Port to an 
offshore natural gas pipeline known as the HubLine.
    The Northeast Gateway Port consists of two subsea Submerged Turret 
LoadingTM (STL) buoys, each with a flexible riser assembly 
and a manifold connecting the riser assembly, via a steel Flowline, to 
the subsea Pipeline Lateral. Northeast Gateway utilizes vessels from 
its current fleet of specially designed Energy BridgeTM 
Regasification Vessels (EBRVs), each capable of transporting 
approximately 2.9 billion ft\3\ (82 million m\3\) of natural gas 
condensed to 4.9 million ft\3\ (138,000 m\3\) of LNG. Northeast Gateway 
has recently added two vessels to its fleet that have a cargo capacity 
of approximately 151,000 m\3\ (5.3 million ft\3\). The mooring system 
installed at the Northeast Gateway Port is designed to handle each 
class of vessel. The EBRVs would dock to the STL buoys, which would 
serve as both the single-point mooring system for the vessels and the 
delivery conduit for natural gas. Each of the STL buoys is secured to 
the seafloor using a series of suction anchors and a combination of 
chain/cable anchor lines.
    The proposed activity of operation of the Northeast Gateway LNG 
Port is described next.

NEG Port Operations

    During NEG Port operations, EBRVs servicing the Northeast Gateway 
Port will utilize the newly configured and International Maritime 
Organization (IMO)-approved Boston Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) on 
their approach to and departure from the Northeast Gateway Port at the 
earliest practicable point of transit. EBRVs will maintain speeds of 12 
knots or less while in the TSS, unless transiting the Off Race Point 
Seasonal Management Area (SMA) between the dates of March 1 and April 
30, or the Great South Channel SMA between the dates of April 1 and 
July 31, or when there have been active right whale sightings, active 
acoustic detections, or both, within 24 hours of each scheduled data 
review period, in the vicinity of the transiting EBRV in the TSS or at 
the NEG Port whereby the vessels must slow their speeds to 10 knots or 
less. Appendix A of the IHA application contains the Marine Mammal 
Detection, Monitoring, and Response Plan for Operation of the Northeast 
Gateway Energy Bridge Deepwater Port and Algonquin Pipeline Lateral, 
which describes in detail the measures required for EBRVs transiting in 
the TSS or within the NEG Port area.
    As an EBRV makes its final approach to the Northeast Gateway Port, 
vessel speed will gradually be reduced to 3 knots when the vessel is 
within 1.86 mi (3 km) out of the Northeast Gateway Port to less than 1 
knot at a distance of 1,640 ft (500 m) from the Northeast Gateway Port. 
When an EBRV arrives at the Northeast Gateway Port, it would retrieve 
one of the two permanently anchored submerged STL buoys and make final 
connection to the buoy through a series of engine and bow thruster 
actions. The EBRV would require the use of thrusters for dynamic 
positioning during docking procedure. Typically, the docking procedure 
is completed over a 10- to 30-minute period, with the thrusters 
activated as necessary for short periods of time in bursts, not a 
continuous sound source. Once connected to the buoy, the EBRV will 
begin vaporizing the LNG into its natural gas state using the onboard 
regasification system. As the LNG is regasified, natural gas will be 
transferred at pipeline pressures off the EBRV through the STL buoy and 
flexible riser via a steel flowline leading to the connecting Pipeline 
Lateral. When the LNG vessel is on the buoy, the vessel would be 
allowed to ``weathervane'' by wind and currents on the single-point 
mooring system; therefore, thrusters will not be used to maintain a 
stationary position.
    It is estimated that the NEG Port could receive approximately 65 
cargo deliveries a year. During this time period, thrusters would be 
engaged in use for docking at the NEG Port approximately 10 to 30 
minutes for each vessel arrival and departure.
    Detailed information on the operation activities can be found in 
the MARAD/USCG Final EIS on the Northeast Gateway Project (see 
ADDRESSES for availability). Detailed information on the LNG facility's 
operation and noise generated from operations was also published in the 
Federal Register for the proposed IHA for Northeast Gateway's LNG Port 
construction and operations on March 13, 2007 (72 FR 11328).

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activities

    Marine mammal species that potentially occur in the vicinity of the 
Northeast Gateway facility include several species of cetaceans and 
pinnipeds:
    North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis),
    humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae),
    fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus),
    minke whale (B. acutorostrata),
    long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas),
    Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus),
    bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus),
    common dolphin (Delphinus delphis),
    killer whale (Orcinus orca),
    Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus),
    harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena),
    harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), and
    gray seal (Halichoerus grypus).
    Information on those species that may be affected by this activity 
is discussed in detail in the USCG Final EIS on the Northeast Gateway 
LNG proposal. Please refer to that document for more information on 
these species and potential impacts from construction and operation of 
this LNG facility. In addition, general information on these marine 
mammal species can also be found in W[uuml]rsig et al. (2000) and in 
the NMFS Stock Assessment Reports (Waring et al., 2011). This latter 
document is available at: http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/publications/tm/tm219/. An updated summary on several commonly sighted marine mammal 
species distribution and abundance in the vicinity of the proposed 
action area is provided below.

Humpback Whale

    The highest abundance for humpback whales is distributed primarily 
along a relatively narrow corridor following the 100-m (328 ft) isobath 
across the southern Gulf of Maine from the northwestern slope of 
Georges Bank, south to the Great South Channel, and northward alongside 
Cape Cod to Stellwagen Bank and Jeffreys Ledge. The relative abundance 
of whales increases in the spring with the highest occurrence along the 
slope waters (between the 40- and 140-m, or 131- and 459-ft, isobaths) 
off Cape Cod and Davis Bank, Stellwagen Basin and Tillies Basin and 
between the 50- and 200-m (164- and 656-ft) isobaths along the inner 
slope of Georges Bank. High abundance is also estimated for the waters 
around Platts Bank. In the

[[Page 43641]]

summer months, abundance increases markedly over the shallow waters 
(<50 m, or <164 ft) of Stellwagen Bank, the waters (100--200 m, or 
328--656 ft) between Platts Bank and Jeffreys Ledge, the steep slopes 
(between the 30- and 160-m isobaths) of Phelps and Davis Bank north of 
the Great South Channel towards Cape Cod, and between the 50- and 100-m 
(164- and 328-ft) isobath for almost the entire length of the steeply 
sloping northern edge of Georges Bank. This general distribution 
pattern persists in all seasons except winter, when humpbacks remain at 
high abundance in only a few locations including Porpoise and Neddick 
Basins adjacent to Jeffreys Ledge, northern Stellwagen Bank and Tillies 
Basin, and the Great South Channel. The best estimate of abundance for 
Gulf of Maine, formerly western North Atlantic, humpback whales is 847 
animals (Waring et al., 2009). Current data suggest that the Gulf of 
Maine humpback whale stock is steadily increasing in size, which is 
consistent with an estimated average trend of 3.1 percent in the North 
Atlantic population overall for the period 1979-1993 (Stevick et al., 
2003, cited in Waring et al., 2009).

Fin Whale

    Spatial patterns of habitat utilization by fin whales are very 
similar to those of humpback whales. Spring and summer high-use areas 
follow the 100-m (328 ft) isobath along the northern edge of Georges 
Bank (between the 50- and 200-m (164- and 656-ft) isobaths), and 
northward from the Great South Channel (between the 50- and 160-m, or 
164- and 525-ft, isobaths). Waters around Cashes Ledge, Platts Bank, 
and Jeffreys Ledge are all high-use areas in the summer months. 
Stellwagen Bank is a high-use area for fin whales in all seasons, with 
highest abundance occurring over the southern Stellwagen Bank in the 
summer months. In fact, the southern portion of the Stellwagen Bank 
National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) is used more frequently than the 
northern portion in all months except winter, when high abundance is 
recorded over the northern tip of Stellwagen Bank. In addition to 
Stellwagen Bank, high abundance in winter is estimated for Jeffreys 
Ledge and the adjacent Porpoise Basin (100- to 160-m, 328- to 656-ft, 
isobaths), as well as Georges Basin and northern Georges Bank. The best 
estimate of abundance for the western North Atlantic stock of fin 
whales is 2,269 (Waring et al., 2009). Currently, there are 
insufficient data to determine population trends for this species.

Minke Whale

    Like other piscivorous baleen whales, highest abundance for minke 
whale is strongly associated with regions between the 50- and 100-m 
(164- and 328-ft) isobaths, but with a slightly stronger preference for 
the shallower waters along the slopes of Davis Bank, Phelps Bank, Great 
South Channel and Georges Shoals on Georges Bank. Minke whales are 
sighted in the SBNMS in all seasons, with highest abundance estimated 
for the shallow waters (approximately 40 m, or 131 ft) over southern 
Stellwagen Bank in the summer and fall months. Platts Bank, Cashes 
Ledge, Jeffreys Ledge, and the adjacent basins (Neddick, Porpoise and 
Scantium) also support high relative abundance. Very low densities of 
minke whales remain throughout most of the southern Gulf of Maine in 
winter. The best estimate of abundance for the Canadian East Coast 
stock, which occurs from the western half of the Davis Strait to the 
Gulf of Mexico, of minke whales is 3,312 animals (Waring et al., 2009). 
Currently, there are insufficient data to determine population trends 
for this species.

North Atlantic Right Whale

    North Atlantic right whales are generally distributed widely across 
the southern Gulf of Maine in spring with highest abundance located 
over the deeper waters (100- to 160-m, or 328- to 525-ft, isobaths) on 
the northern edge of the Great South Channel and deep waters (100 B 300 
m, 328-984 ft) parallel to the 100-m (328-ft) isobath of northern 
Georges Bank and Georges Basin. High abundance is also found in the 
shallowest waters (< 30 m, or <98 ft) of Cape Cod Bay, over Platts Bank 
and around Cashes Ledge. Lower relative abundance is estimated over 
deep-water basins including Wilkinson Basin, Rodgers Basin and Franklin 
Basin. In the summer months, right whales move almost entirely away 
from the coast to deep waters over basins in the central Gulf of Maine 
(Wilkinson Basin, Cashes Basin between the 160- and 200-m, or 525- and 
656-ft, isobaths) and north of Georges Bank (Rogers, Crowell and 
Georges Basins). Highest abundance is found north of the 100-m (328-ft) 
isobath at the Great South Channel and over the deep slope waters and 
basins along the northern edge of Georges Bank. The waters between 
Fippennies Ledge and Cashes Ledge are also estimated as high-use areas. 
In the fall months, right whales are sighted infrequently in the Gulf 
of Maine, with highest densities over Jeffreys Ledge and over deeper 
waters near Cashes Ledge and Wilkinson Basin. In winter, Cape Cod Bay, 
Scantum Basin, Jeffreys Ledge, and Cashes Ledge were the main high-use 
areas. Although SBNMS does not appear to support the highest abundance 
of right whales, sightings within SBNMS are reported for all four 
seasons, albeit at low relative abundance. Highest sighting within 
SBNMS occurred along the southern edge of the Bank.
    The western North Atlantic population size was estimated to be at 
least 345 individuals in 2005 based on a census of individual whales 
identified using photo-identification techniques (Waring et al., 2009). 
This value is a minimum and does not include animals that were alive 
prior to 2003 but not recorded in the individual sightings database as 
seen from December 1, 2003, to October 10, 2008. It also does not 
include calves known to be born during 2005 or any other individual 
whale seen during 2005 but not yet entered into the catalog (Waring et 
al., 2009). Examination of the minimum alive population index 
calculated from the individual sightings database, as it existed on 
October 10, 2008, for the years 1990-2005 suggests a positive trend in 
numbers. These data reveal a significant increase in the number of 
catalogued whales alive during this period but with significant 
variation due to apparent losses exceeding gains during 1998-1999. Mean 
growth rate for the period 1990-2005 was 1.8 percent (Waring et al., 
2009).

Long-Finned Pilot Whale

    The long-finned pilot whale is more generally found along the edge 
of the continental shelf (a depth of 330 to 3,300 ft, or 100 to 1,000 
m), choosing areas of high relief or submerged banks in cold or 
temperate shoreline waters. This species is split between two 
subspecies: The Northern and Southern subspecies. The Southern 
subspecies is circumpolar with northern limits of Brazil and South 
Africa. The Northern subspecies, which could be encountered during 
operation of the NEG Port, ranges from North Carolina to Greenland 
(Reeves et al., 2002; Wilson and Ruff, 1999). In the western North 
Atlantic, long-finned pilot whales are pelagic, occurring in especially 
high densities in winter and spring over the continental slope, then 
moving inshore and onto the shelf in summer and autumn following squid 
and mackerel populations (Reeves et al., 2002). They frequently travel 
into the central and northern Georges Bank, Great South Channel, and 
Gulf of Maine areas during the summer and early fall (May and October) 
(NOAA, 1993). According to the species stock report,

[[Page 43642]]

the population estimate for the Western North Atlantic long-finned 
pilot whale is 26,535 individuals (Waring et al., 2010). Currently, 
there are insufficient data to determine population trends for the 
long-finned pilot whale.

Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin

    In spring, summer and fall, Atlantic white-sided dolphins are 
widespread throughout the southern Gulf of Maine, with the high-use 
areas widely located either side of the 100-m (328-ft) isobath along 
the northern edge of Georges Bank, and north from the Great South 
Channel to Stellwagen Bank, Jeffreys Ledge, Platts Bank and Cashes 
Ledge. In spring, high-use areas exist in the Great South Channel, 
northern Georges Bank, the steeply sloping edge of Davis Bank and Cape 
Cod, southern Stellwagen Bank and the waters between Jeffreys Ledge and 
Platts Bank. In summer, there is a shift and expansion of habitat 
toward the east and northeast. High-use areas are identified along most 
of the northern edge of Georges Bank between the 50- and 200-m (164- 
and 656-ft) isobaths and northward from the Great South Channel along 
the slopes of Davis Bank and Cape Cod. High numbers of sightings are 
also recorded over Truxton Swell, Wilkinson Basin, Cashes Ledge and the 
bathymetrically complex area northeast of Platts Bank. High numbers of 
sightings of white-sided dolphin are recorded within SBNMS in all 
seasons, with highest density in summer and most widespread 
distributions in spring located mainly over the southern end of 
Stellwagen Bank. In winter, high numbers of sightings are recorded at 
the northern tip of Stellwagen Bank and Tillies Basin.
    A comparison of spatial distribution patterns for all baleen whales 
(Mysticeti) and all porpoises and dolphins combined show that both 
groups have very similar spatial patterns of high- and low-use areas. 
The baleen whales, whether piscivorous or planktivorous, are more 
concentrated than the dolphins and porpoises. They utilize a corridor 
that extended broadly along the most linear and steeply sloping edges 
in the southern Gulf of Maine indicated broadly by the 100 m (328 ft) 
isobath. Stellwagen Bank and Jeffreys Ledge support a high abundance of 
baleen whales throughout the year. Species richness maps indicate that 
high-use areas for individual whales and dolphin species co-occur, 
resulting in similar patterns of species richness primarily along the 
southern portion of the 100-m (328-ft) isobath extending northeast and 
northwest from the Great South Channel. The southern edge of Stellwagen 
Bank and the waters around the northern tip of Cape Cod are also 
highlighted as supporting high cetacean species richness. Intermediate 
to high numbers of species are also calculated for the waters 
surrounding Jeffreys Ledge, the entire Stellwagen Bank, Platts Bank, 
Fippennies Ledge and Cashes Ledge. The best estimate of abundance for 
the western North Atlantic stock of white-sided dolphins is 63,368 
(Waring et al., 2009). A trend analysis has not been conducted for this 
species.

Killer Whale, Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Risso's Dolphin, and 
Harbor Porpoise

    Although these five species are some of the most widely distributed 
small cetacean species in the world (Jefferson et al., 1993), they are 
not commonly seen in the vicinity of the proposed project area in 
Massachusetts Bay (Wiley et al., 1994; NCCOS, 2006; Northeast Gateway 
Marine Mammal Monitoring Weekly Reports, 2007). The total number of 
killer whales off the eastern U.S. coast is unknown, and present data 
are insufficient to calculate a minimum population estimate or to 
determine the population trends for this stock (Blaylock et al., 1995). 
The best estimate of abundance for the western North Atlantic stock of 
common dolphins is 120,743 animals, and a trend analysis has not been 
conducted for this species (Waring et al., 2007). There are several 
stocks of bottlenose dolphins found along the eastern U.S. from Maine 
to Florida. The stock that may occur in the area of the Neptune Port is 
the western North Atlantic coastal northern migratory stock of 
bottlenose dolphins. The best estimate of abundance for this stock is 
7,489 animals (Waring et al., 2009). There are insufficient data to 
determine the population trend for this stock. The best estimate of 
abundance for the western North Atlantic stock of Risso's dolphins is 
20,479 animals (Waring et al., 2009). There are insufficient data to 
determine the population trend for this stock. The best estimate of 
abundance for the Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy stock of harbor porpoise 
is 89,054 animals (Waring et al., 2009). A trend analysis has not been 
conducted for this species.

Harbor Seal and Gray Seal

    In the U.S. waters of the western North Atlantic, both harbor and 
gray seals are usually found from the coast of Maine south to southern 
New England and New York (Waring et al., 2010).
    Along the southern New England and New York coasts, harbor seals 
occur seasonally from September through late May (Schneider and Payne, 
1983). In recent years, their seasonal interval along the southern New 
England to New Jersey coasts has increased (deHart, 2002). In U.S. 
waters, harbor seal breeding and pupping normally occur in waters north 
of the New Hampshire/Maine border, although breeding has occurred as 
far south as Cape Cod in the early part of the 20th century (Temte et 
al., 1991; Katona et al., 1993). The best estimate of abundance for the 
western North Atlantic stock of harbor seals is 99,340 animals (Waring 
et al., 2009). Between 1981 and 2001, the uncorrected counts of seals 
increased from 10,543 to 38,014, an annual rate of 6.6 percent (Gilbert 
et al., 2005, cited in Waring et al., 2009). Although gray seals are 
often seen off the coast from New England to Labrador, within the U.S. 
waters, only small numbers of gray seals have been observed pupping on 
several isolated islands along the Maine coast and in Nantucket-
Vineyard Sound, Massachusetts (Katona et al., 1993; Rough, 1995). In 
the late 1990s, a year-round breeding population of approximately 400 
gray seals was documented on outer Cape Cod and Muskeget Island 
(Warring et al., 2007). Depending on the model used, the minimum 
estimate for the Canadian gray seal population was estimated to range 
between 125,541 and 169,064 animals (Trzcinski et al., 2005, cited in 
Waring et al., 2009); however, present data are insufficient to 
calculate the minimum population estimate for U.S. waters. Waring et 
al, (2009) note that gray seal abundance in the U.S. Atlantic is likely 
increasing, but the rate of increase is unknown.

Brief Background on Marine Mammal Hearing

    When considering the influence of various kinds of sound on the 
marine environment, it is necessary to understand that different kinds 
of marine life are sensitive to different frequencies of sound. Based 
on available behavioral data, audiograms derived using auditory evoked 
potential techniques, anatomical modeling, and other data, Southall et 
al. (2007) designate ``functional hearing groups'' for marine mammals 
and estimate the lower and upper frequencies of functional hearing of 
the groups. The functional groups and the associated frequencies are 
indicated below (though animals are less sensitive to sounds at the 
outer edge of their functional range and most sensitive to sounds of 
frequencies within a smaller range somewhere in the middle of their 
functional hearing range):
     Low frequency cetaceans (13 species of mysticetes): 
functional

[[Page 43643]]

hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 7 Hz and 22 kHz;
     Mid-frequency cetaceans (32 species of dolphins, six 
species of larger toothed whales, and 19 species of beaked and 
bottlenose whales): functional hearing is estimated to occur between 
approximately 150 Hz and 160 kHz;
     High frequency cetaceans (eight species of true porpoises, 
six species of river dolphins, Kogia, the franciscana, and four species 
of cephalorhynchids): functional hearing is estimated to occur between 
approximately 200 Hz and 180 kHz; and
     Pinnipeds in Water: functional hearing is estimated to 
occur between approximately 75 Hz and 75 kHz, with the greatest 
sensitivity between approximately 700 Hz and 20 kHz.
    As mentioned previously in this document, 13 marine mammal species 
(11 cetacean and two pinniped species) are likely to occur in the NEG 
Port area. Of the 11 cetacean species likely to occur in NEG's project 
area, four are classified as low frequency cetaceans (i.e., North 
Atlantic right, humpback, fin, and minke whales), six are classified as 
mid-frequency cetaceans (i.e., killer and pilot whales and bottlenose, 
common, Risso's, and Atlantic white-sided dolphins), and one is 
classified as a high-frequency cetacean (i.e., harbor porpoise) 
(Southall et al., 2007).

Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals

    Potential effects of NEG's proposed port operations would most 
likely be acoustic in nature. LNG port operations introduce sound into 
the marine environment. The effects of noise on marine mammals are 
highly variable, and can be categorized as follows (based on Richardson 
et al., 1995): (1) The noise may be too weak to be heard at the 
location of the animal (i.e., lower than the prevailing ambient noise 
level, the hearing threshold of the animal at relevant frequencies, or 
both); (2) The noise may be audible but not strong enough to elicit any 
overt behavioral response; (3) The noise may elicit reactions of 
variable conspicuousness and variable relevance to the well being of 
the marine mammal; these can range from temporary alert responses to 
active avoidance reactions such as vacating an area at least until the 
noise event ceases; (4) Upon repeated exposure, a marine mammal may 
exhibit diminishing responsiveness (habituation), or disturbance 
effects may persist; the latter is most likely with sounds that are 
highly variable in characteristics, infrequent and unpredictable in 
occurrence, and associated with situations that a marine mammal 
perceives as a threat; (5) Any anthropogenic noise that is strong 
enough to be heard has the potential to reduce (mask) the ability of a 
marine mammal to hear natural sounds at similar frequencies, including 
calls from conspecifics, and underwater environmental sounds such as 
surf noise; (6) If mammals remain in an area because it is important 
for feeding, breeding or some other biologically important purpose even 
though there is chronic exposure to noise, it is possible that there 
could be noise-induced physiological stress; this might in turn have 
negative effects on the well-being or reproduction of the animals 
involved; and (7) Very strong sounds have the potential to cause 
temporary or permanent reduction in hearing sensitivity. In terrestrial 
mammals, and presumably marine mammals, received sound levels must far 
exceed the animal's hearing threshold for there to be any temporary 
threshold shift (TTS) in its hearing ability. For transient sounds, the 
sound level necessary to cause TTS is inversely related to the duration 
of the sound. Received sound levels must be even higher for there to be 
risk of permanent hearing impairment. In addition, intense acoustic (or 
explosive events) may cause trauma to tissues associated with organs 
vital for hearing, sound production, respiration and other functions. 
This trauma may include minor to severe hemorrhage.
    There are three general categories of sounds recognized by NMFS: 
continuous (such as shipping sounds), intermittent (such as vibratory 
pile driving sounds), and impulse. No impulse noise activities, such as 
blasting or standard pile driving, are associated with this project. 
The noise sources of potential concern are regasification/offloading 
(which is a continuous sound) and dynamic positioning of vessels using 
thrusters (an intermittent sound) from EBRVs during docking at the NEG 
port facility. Noise generated from regasification/offloading is 
modeled to be under 120 dB, therefore, no take is expected from this 
activity. Based on research by Malme et al. (1983; 1984), for both 
continuous and intermittent sound sources, Level B harassment is 
presumed to begin at received levels of 120-dB. The detailed 
description of the noise that would result from the proposed LNG Port 
operations is provided in the Federal Register notice for the initial 
construction and operations of the NEG LNG Port facility and Pipeline 
Lateral in 2007 (72 FR 27077; May 14, 2007).

NEG Port Activities

    Underwater noise generated at the NEG Port has the potential to 
result from two distinct actions, including closed-loop regasification 
of LNG and/or EBRV maneuvering during coupling and decoupling with STL 
buoys. To evaluate the potential for these activities to result in 
underwater noise that could harass marine mammals, Excelerate conducted 
field sound survey studies during periods of March 21 to 25, 2005, and 
August 6 to 9, 2006, while the EBRV Excelsior was both maneuvering and 
moored at the operational Gulf Gateway Port located 116 mi (187 km) 
offshore in the Gulf of Mexico (the Gulf) (see Appendices B and C of 
the NEG application). EBRV maneuvering conditions included the use of 
both stern and bow thrusters required for dynamic positioning during 
coupling. These data were used to model underwater sound propagation at 
the NEG Port. The pertinent results of the field survey are provided as 
underwater sound source pressure levels as follows:
     Sound levels during closed-loop regasification ranged from 
104 to 110 dB. Maximum levels during steady state operations were 108 
dB.
     Sound levels during coupling operations were dominated by 
the periodic use of the bow and stern thrusters and ranged from 160 to 
170 dBL.
    Figures 1-1 and 1-2 of NEG's IHA application present the net 
acoustic impact of one EBRV operating at the NEG Port. Thrusters are 
operated intermittently and only for relatively short durations of 
time. The resulting area within the 120 dB isopleth is less than 1 km 
\2\ with the linear distance to the isopleths extending 430 m (1,411 
ft). The area within the 180 dB isopleth is very localized and will not 
extend beyond the immediate area where EBRV coupling operations are 
occurring.
    The potential impacts to marine mammals associated with sound 
propagation from vessel movements, anchors, chains and LNG 
regasification/offloading could be the temporary and short-term 
displacement of seals and whales from within the 120-dB zones 
ensonified by these noise sources. Animals would be expected to re-
occupy the area once the noise ceases.

Anticipated Effects on Habitat

    Approximately 4.8 acres of seafloor has been converted from soft 
substrate to artificial hard substrate. The soft-bottom benthic 
community may be replaced with organisms associated with

[[Page 43644]]

naturally occurring hard substrate, such as sponges, hydroids, 
bryozoans, and associated species. The benthic community in the up to 
43 acres (worst case scenario based on severe 100-year storm with EBRVs 
occupying both STL buoys) of soft bottom that may be swept by the 
anchor chains while EBRVs are docked will have limited opportunity to 
recover, so this area will experience a long-term reduction in benthic 
productivity. In addition, disturbance from anchor chain movement would 
result in increased turbidity levels in the vicinity of the buoys that 
could affect prey species for marine mammals; however, as indicated in 
the final EIS/EIR, these impacts are expected to be short-term, 
indirect, and minor.
    Daily removal of sea water from EBRV intakes will reduce the food 
resources available for planktivorous organisms. Water usage would be 
limited to the standard requirements of NEG's normal support vessel. As 
with all vessels operating in Massachusetts Bay, sea water uptake and 
discharge is required to support engine cooling, typically using a 
once-through system. The rate of seawater uptake varies with the ship's 
horsepower and activity and therefore will differ between vessels and 
activity type. For example, the Gateway Endeavor is a 90-ft (27 m) 
vessel powered with a 1,200 horsepower diesel engine with a four-pump 
seawater cooling system. This system requires seawater intake of about 
68 gallons per minute (gpm) while idling and up to about 150 gpm at 
full power. Use of full power is required generally for transit. A 
conservatively high estimate of vessel activity for the Gateway 
Endeavor would be operation at idle for 75% of the time and full power 
for 25% of the time. During routine activities, this would equate to 
approximately 42,480 gallons of seawater per 8-hour work day. When 
compared to the engine cooling requirements of an EBRV over an 8-hour 
period (approximately 17.62 million gallons), the Gateway Endeavor uses 
about 0.2% of the EBRV requirement. To put this water use into context, 
the final EIS/EIR for the proposed NEG Port concluded that the impacts 
to fish populations and to marine mammals that feed on fish or plankton 
resulting from water use by an EBRV during port operations 
(approximately 39,780,000 gallons over each 8-day regasification 
period) would be minor. Water use by support vessels during routine 
port activities would not materially add to the overall impacts 
evaluated in the final EIS/EIR. Additionally, discharges associated 
with the Gateway Endeavor and/or other support/maintenance vessels that 
are 79 feet or greater in length, are now regulated under the Clean 
Water Act (CWA) and must receive and comply with the United States 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Vessel General Permit (VGP). The 
permit incorporates the USCG mandatory ballast water management and 
exchange standards, and provides technology- and water quality-based 
effluent limits for other types of discharges, including deck runoff, 
bilge water, graywater, and other pollutants. It also establishes 
specific corrective actions, inspection, and monitoring requirements 
and recordkeeping and reporting requirements for each vessel. 
Massachusetts Bay circulation will not be altered, so plankton will be 
continuously transported into the NEG Port area. The removal of these 
species is minor and unlikely to affect in a measurable way the food 
sources available to marine mammals.
    In conclusion, NMFS has preliminarily determined that NEG's 
proposed port operations are not expected to have any habitat-related 
effects that could cause significant or long-term consequences for 
individual marine mammals or on the food sources that they utilize. 
Proposed Monitoring and Mitigation Measures.
    In order to issue an incidental take authorization (ITA) under the 
MMPA, NMFS must, where applicable, set forth the permissible methods of 
taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the 
least practicable adverse impact on such species or stock and its 
habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and 
areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species 
or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses (where relevant). In 
addition, NMFS must, where applicable, set forth ``requirements 
pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking''. The MMPA 
implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104 (a)(13) indicate that 
requests for ITAs must include the suggested means of accomplishing the 
necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased 
knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or impacts on 
populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present in the 
action area.
    During the construction and operations of the NEG LNG Port facility 
in prior years, Northeast Gateway submitted reports on marine mammal 
sightings in the area. While it is difficult to draw biological 
conclusions from these reports, NMFS can make some general conclusions. 
Data gathered by MMOs is generally useful to indicate the presence or 
absence of marine mammals (often to a species level) within the safety 
zones (and sometimes without) and to document the implementation of 
mitigation measures. Though it is by no means conclusive, it is worth 
noting that no instances of obvious behavioral disturbance as a result 
of Northeast Gateway's activities were observed by the MMOs.
    In addition, Northeast Gateway was required to maintain an array of 
Marine Autonomous Recording Units (MARUs) to monitor calling North 
Atlantic right whales (humpback, fin, and minke whale calls were also 
able to be detected).
    For the proposed IHA to NEG for LNG port operations, NMFS proposes 
the following monitoring and mitigation measures.

Protected Species Observers

    For activities related to the NEG LNG port operations, all 
individuals onboard the EBRVs responsible for the navigation and 
lookout duties on the vessel must receive training prior to assuming 
navigation and lookout duties, a component of which will be training on 
marine mammal sighting/reporting and vessel strike avoidance measures. 
Crew training of EBRV personnel will stress individual responsibility 
for marine mammal awareness and reporting.
    If a marine mammal is sighted by a crew member, an immediate 
notification will be made to the Person-in-Charge on board the vessel 
and the Northeast Port Manager, who will ensure that the required 
vessel strike avoidance measures and reporting procedures are followed.

Vessel Strike Avoidance

    (1) All EBRVs approaching or departing the port will comply with 
the Mandatory Ship Reporting (MSR) system to keep apprised of right 
whale sightings in the vicinity. Vessel operators will also receive 
active detections from an existing passive acoustic array prior to and 
during transit through the northern leg of the Boston TSS where the 
buoys are installed.
    (2) In response to active right whale sightings (detected 
acoustically or reported through other means such as the MSR or 
Sighting Advisory System (SAS)), and taking into account safety and 
weather conditions, EBRVs will take appropriate actions to minimize the 
risk of striking whales, including reducing speed to 10 knots or less 
and alerting personnel responsible for navigation and lookout duties to 
concentrate their efforts.

[[Page 43645]]

    (3) EBRVs will maintain speeds of 12 knots or less while in the TSS 
until reaching the vicinity of the buoys (except during the seasons and 
areas defined below, when speed will be limited to 10 knots or less). 
At 1.86 mi (3 km) from the NEG port, speed will be reduced to 3 knots, 
and to less than 1 knot at 1,640 ft (500 m) from the buoy.
    (4) EBRVs will reduce transit speed to 10 knots or less over ground 
from March 1-April 30 in all waters bounded by straight lines 
connecting the following points in the order stated below. This area is 
known as the Off Race Point SMA and tracks NMFS regulations at 50 CFR 
224.105:
    42[deg]30'00.0'' N-069[deg]45'00.0'' W; thence to 42[deg]30'00.0'' 
N-070[deg]30'00.0'' W; thence to 42[deg]12'00.0'' N-070[deg]30'00.0'' 
W; thence to 42[deg]12'00.0'' N-070[deg]12'00.0'' W; thence to 
42[deg]04'56.5'' N-070[deg]12'00.0'' W; thence along charted mean high 
water line and inshore limits of COLREGS limit to a latitude of 
41[deg]40'00.0'' N; thence due east to 41[deg]41'00.0'' N-
069[deg]45'00.0'' W; thence back to starting point.
    (5) EBRVs will reduce transit speed to 10 knots or less over ground 
from April 1-July 31 in all waters bounded by straight lines connecting 
the following points in the order stated below. This area is also known 
as the Great South Channel SMA and tracks NMFS regulations at 50 CFR 
224.105:

42[deg]30'00.0'' N-69[deg]45'00.0'' W
41[deg]40'00.0'' N-69[deg]45'00.0'' W
41[deg]00'00.0'' N-69[deg]05'00.0'' W
42[deg]09'00.0'' N-67[deg]08'24.0'' W
42[deg]30'00.0'' N-67[deg]27'00.0'' W
42[deg]30'00.0'' N-69[deg]45'00.0'' W

    (6) LNGRVs are not expected to transit Cape Cod Bay. However, in 
the event transit through Cape Cod Bay is required, LNGRVs will reduce 
transit speed to 10 knots or less over ground from January 1-May 15 in 
all waters in Cape Cod Bay, extending to all shorelines of Cape Cod 
Bay, with a northern boundary of 42[deg]12'00.0'' N latitude.
    (7) A vessel may operate at a speed necessary to maintain safe 
maneuvering speed instead of the required 10 knots only if justified 
because the vessel is in an area where oceanographic, hydrographic, 
and/or meteorological conditions severely restrict the maneuverability 
of the vessel and the need to operate at such speed is confirmed by the 
pilot on board or, when a vessel is not carrying a pilot, the master of 
the vessel. If a deviation from the 10-knot speed limit is necessary, 
the reasons for the deviation, the speed at which the vessel is 
operated, the latitude and longitude of the area, and the time and 
duration of such deviation shall be entered into the logbook of the 
vessel. The master of the vessel shall attest to the accuracy of the 
logbook entry by signing and dating it.

Research Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) Program

    Northeast Gateway shall monitor the noise environment in 
Massachusetts Bay in the vicinity of the NEG Port using an array of 19 
MARUs that were deployed initially in April 2007 to collect data during 
the preconstruction and active construction phases of the NEG Port and 
Algonquin Pipeline Lateral. A description of the MARUs can be found in 
Appendix A of the NEG and Algonquin application. These 19 MARUs will 
remain in the same configuration during full operation of the NEG Port. 
The MARUs collect archival noise data and are not designed to provide 
real-time or near-real-time information about vocalizing whales. 
Rather, the acoustic data collected by the MARUs shall be analyzed to 
document the seasonal occurrences and overall distributions of whales 
(primarily fin, humpback, and right whales) within approximately 10 
nautical miles (18 km) of the NEG Port and shall measure and document 
the noise ``footprint'' of Massachusetts Bay so as to eventually assist 
in determining whether an overall increase in noise in the Bay 
associated with the NEG Port might be having a potentially negative 
impact on marine mammals. The overall intent of this system is to 
provide better information for both regulators and the general public 
regarding the acoustic footprint associated with long-term operation of 
the NEG Port in Massachusetts Bay and the distribution of vocalizing 
marine mammals during NEG Port activities.
    In addition to the 19 MARUs, Northeast Gateway will deploy 10 auto-
detection buoys (ABs) within the TSS for the operational life of the 
NEG Port. A description of the ABs is provided in Appendix A of this 
NEG and Algonquin's application. The purpose of the ABs shall be to 
detect a calling North Atlantic right whale an average of 5 nm (9.26 
km) from each AB (detection ranges will vary based on ambient 
underwater conditions). The AB system shall be the primary detection 
mechanism that alerts the EBRV captains to the occurrence of right 
whales, heightens EBRV awareness, and triggers necessary mitigation 
actions as described in the Marine Mammal Detection, Monitoring, and 
Response Plan included as Appendix A of the NEG application.
    Northeast Gateway has engaged representatives from Cornell 
University's Bioacoustics Research Program and the Woods Hole 
Oceanographic Institution as the consultants for developing, 
implementing, collecting, and analyzing the acoustic data; reporting; 
and maintaining the acoustic monitoring system.
    Further information detailing the deployment and operation of 
arrays of 19 passive seafloor acoustic recording units (MARUs) centered 
on the terminal site and the 10 ABs that are to be placed at 
approximately 5-m (8.0-km) intervals within the recently modified TSS 
can be found in the Marine Mammal Detection, Monitoring, and Response 
Plan included as Appendix A of the NEG and Algonquin application.

Mitigation Conclusions

    NMFS has carefully evaluated the applicant's proposed mitigation 
measures in the context of ensuring that NMFS prescribes the means of 
effecting the least practicable impact on the affected marine mammal 
species and stocks and their habitat. Our evaluation of potential 
measures included consideration of the following factors in relation to 
one another:
     The manner in which, and the degree to which, the 
successful implementation of the measure is expected to minimize 
adverse impacts to marine mammals;
     The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to 
minimize adverse impacts as planned; and
     The practicability of the measure for applicant 
implementation.
    Based on our evaluation of the applicant's proposed measures, NMFS 
has preliminarily determined that the proposed mitigation measures 
provide the means of effecting the least practicable impact on marine 
mammal species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention 
to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance.

Reporting

    The Project area is within the Mandatory Ship Reporting Area 
(MSRA), so all vessels entering and exiting the MSRA will report their 
activities to WHALESNORTH. During all phases of the Northeast Gateway 
LNG Port operations, sightings of any injured or dead marine mammals 
will be reported immediately to the USCG and NMFS, regardless of 
whether the injury or death is caused by project activities.
    An annual report on marine mammal monitoring and mitigation shall 
be submitted to NMFS Office of Protected Resources and NMFS Northeast

[[Page 43646]]

Regional Office within 90 days after the expiration of the IHA. The 
annual report shall include data collected for each distinct marine 
mammal species observed in the project area in Massachusetts Bay during 
the period of LNG facility operation. Description of marine mammal 
behavior, overall numbers of individuals observed, frequency of 
observation, and any behavioral changes and the context of the changes 
relative to operation activities shall also be included in the annual 
report.

General Conclusions Drawn From Previous Monitoring Reports

    Based on monthly activity reports submitted to NMFS for the period 
between August 2010 and May 2011, there were no activities at the NEG 
Port during the period. Therefore, no take of marine mammals occurred 
or were reported during this period.

Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment

    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]. Only take by Level B harassment is 
anticipated as a result of NEG's operational activities. Anticipated 
take of marine mammals is associated with operation of dynamic 
positioning during the docking of the LNG vessels. The regasification 
process itself is an activity that does not rise to the level of 
taking, as the modeled source level for this activity is 108 dB. 
Certain species may have a behavioral reaction to the sound emitted 
during the activities. Hearing impairment is not anticipated. 
Additionally, vessel strikes are not anticipated, especially because of 
the speed restriction measures that are proposed that were described 
earlier in this document.
    Although Northeast Gateway stated that the ensonified area of 120-
dB isopleths by EBRV's decoupling would be less than 1 km\2\ as 
measured in the Gulf of Mexico in 2005, due to the lack of more recent 
sound source verification and the lack of source measurement in 
Massachusetts Bay, NMFS uses a more conservative spreading model to 
calculate the 120 dB isopleth received sound level. This model was also 
used to establish the 120-dB zone of influence (ZOI) for the previous 
IHAs issued to Northeast Gateway. In the vicinity of the LNG Port, 
where the water depth is about 80 m (262 ft), the 120-dB radius is 
estimated to be 2.56 km (1.6 mi) maximum from the sound source during 
dynamic positioning for the container ship, making a maximum ZOI of 21 
km\2\ (8.1 mi\2\). For shallow water depth (40 m or 131 ft) 
representative of the northern segment of the Algonquin Pipeline 
Lateral, the 120-dB radius is estimated to be 3.31 km (2.06 mi), the 
associated ZOI is 34 km\2\ (13.1 mi\2\).
    The basis for Northeast Gateway and Algonquin's ``take'' estimate 
is the number of marine mammals that would be exposed to sound levels 
in excess of 120 dB, which is the threshold used by NMFS for continuous 
sounds. For the NEG port facility operations, the take estimates are 
determined by multiplying the area of the EBRV's ZOI (34 km\2\) by 
local marine mammal density estimates, corrected to account for 50 
percent more marine mammals that may be underwater, and then 
multiplying by the estimated LNG container ship visits per year. In the 
case of data gaps, a conservative approach was used to ensure the 
potential number of takes is not underestimated, as described next.
    NMFS recognizes that baleen whale species other than North Atlantic 
right whales have been sighted in the project area from May to 
November. However, the occurrence and abundance of fin, humpback, and 
minke whales is not well documented within the project area. 
Nonetheless, NMFS uses the data on cetacean distribution within 
Massachusetts Bay, such as those published by the National Centers for 
Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS, 2006), to estimate potential takes of 
marine mammals species in the vicinity of project area.
    The NCCOS study used cetacean sightings from two sources: (1) The 
North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium (NARWC) sightings database held 
at the University of Rhode Island (Kenney, 2001); and (2) the Manomet 
Bird Observatory (MBO) database, held at NMFS Northeast Fisheries 
Science Center (NEFSC). The NARWC data contained survey efforts and 
sightings data from ship and aerial surveys and opportunistic sources 
between 1970 and 2005. The main data contributors included: Cetacean 
and Turtles Assessment Program (CETAP), Canadian Department of 
Fisheries and Oceans, PCCS, International Fund for Animal Welfare, 
NOAA's NEFSC, New England Aquarium, Woods Hole Oceanographic 
Institution, and the University of Rhode Island. A total of 653,725 km 
(406,293 mi) of survey track and 34,589 cetacean observations were 
provisionally selected for the NCCOS study in order to minimize bias 
from uneven allocation of survey effort in both time and space. The 
sightings-per-unit-effort (SPUE) was calculated for all cetacean 
species by month covering the southern Gulf of Maine study area, which 
also includes the project area (NCCOS, 2006).
    The MBO's Cetacean and Seabird Assessment Program (CSAP) was 
contracted from 1980 to 1988 by NMFS NEFSC to provide an assessment of 
the relative abundance and distribution of cetaceans, seabirds, and 
marine turtles in the shelf waters of the northeastern United States 
(MBO, 1987). The CSAP program was designed to be completely compatible 
with NMFS NEFSC databases so that marine mammal data could be compared 
directly with fisheries data throughout the time series during which 
both types of information were gathered. A total of 5,210 km (8,383 mi) 
of survey distance and 636 cetacean observations from the MBO data were 
included in the NCCOS analysis. Combined valid survey effort for the 
NCCOS studies included 567,955 km (913,840 mi) of survey track for 
small cetaceans (dolphins and porpoises) and 658,935 km (1,060,226 mi) 
for large cetaceans (whales) in the southern Gulf of Maine. The NCCOS 
study then combined these two data sets by extracting cetacean sighting 
records, updating database field names to match the NARWC database, 
creating geometry to represent survey tracklines and applying a set of 
data selection criteria designed to minimize uncertainty and bias in 
the data used.
    Owing to the comprehensiveness and total coverage of the NCCOS 
cetacean distribution and abundance study, NMFS calculated the 
estimated take number of marine mammals based on the most recent NCCOS 
report published in December 2006. A summary of seasonal cetacean 
distribution and abundance in the project area is provided above, in 
the ``Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified 
Activities'' section. For a detailed description and calculation of the 
cetacean abundance data and SPUE, please refer to the NCCOS study 
(NCCOS, 2006). These data show that the relative abundance of North 
Atlantic right, fin, humpback, minke, and pilot whales, and Atlantic 
white-sided dolphins for all seasons, as calculated by SPUE in number 
of animals per square kilometer, is 0.0082, 0.0097, 0.0265, 0.0059, 
0.0407, and 0.1314 n/km, respectively.

[[Page 43647]]

    In calculating the area density of these species from these linear 
density data, NMFS used 1.15 mi (1.85 km) as the strip width (W). This 
strip width is based on the distance of visibility used in the NARWC 
data that was part of the NCCOS (2006) study. However, those surveys 
used a strip transect instead of a line transect methodology. 
Therefore, in order to obtain a strip width, one must divide the 
visibility or transect value in half. Since the visibility value used 
in the NARWC data was 2.3 mi (3.7 km), it thus gives a strip width of 
1.15 mi (1.85 km). Based on this information, the area density (D) of 
these species in the project area can be obtained by the following 
formula:

D = SPUE/2W.

    Based on this calculation method, the estimated take numbers per 
year for North Atlantic right, fin, humpback, minke, and pilot whales, 
and Atlantic white-sided dolphins by the NEG Port facility operations, 
which is an average of 65 visits by LNG container ships to the project 
area per year (or approximately 1.25 visits per week), operating the 
vessels' thrusters for dynamic positioning before offloading natural 
gas, corrected for 50 percent underwater, are 5, 5, 15, 3, 23, and 73, 
respectively. These numbers represent maximum of 1.32, 0.24, 1.73, 
0.10, 0.08, and 0.11 percent of the populations for these species, 
respectively. Since it is very likely that individual animals could be 
``taken'' by harassment multiple times, these percentages are the upper 
boundary of the animal population that could be affected. Therefore, 
the actual number of individual animals being exposed or taken would be 
far less. There is no danger of injury, death, or hearing impairment 
from the exposure to these noise levels.
    In addition, bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, killer whales, 
Risso's dolphins, harbor porpoises, harbor seals, and gray seals could 
also be taken by Level B harassment as a result of deepwater LNG port 
operations. Since these species are less likely to occur in the area, 
and there are no density estimates specific to this particular area, 
NMFS based the take estimates on typical group size. Therefore, NMFS 
estimates that up to approximately 10 bottlenose dolphins, 20 common 
dolphins, 20 Risso's dolphins, 20 killer whales, 5 harbor porpoises, 15 
harbor seals, and 15 gray seals could be exposed to continuous noise at 
or above 120 dB re 1 [mu]Pa rms incidental to operations during the one 
year period of the IHA, respectively.
    Since Massachusetts Bay represents only a small fraction of the 
western North Atlantic basin where these animals occur NMFS has 
preliminarily determined that only small numbers of the affected marine 
mammal species or stocks would be potentially affected by the Northeast 
Gateway LNG deepwater project. The take estimates presented in this 
section of the document do not take into consideration the mitigation 
and monitoring measures that are proposed for inclusion in the IHA (if 
issued).

Negligible Impact and Small Numbers Analysis and Preliminary 
Determination

    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.'' In making a negligible impact determination, 
NMFS considers a variety of factors, including but not limited to: (1) 
The number of anticipated mortalities; (2) the number and nature of 
anticipated injuries; (3) the number, nature, intensity, and duration 
of Level B harassment; and (4) the context in which the takes occur.
    No injuries or mortalities are anticipated to occur as a result of 
Northeast Gateway's proposed port operation activities, and none are 
proposed to be authorized by NMFS. Additionally, animals in the area 
are not anticipated to incur any hearing impairment (i.e., TTS or PTS), 
as the modeling of source levels indicates that none of the source 
received levels exceed 180 dB (rms).
    While some of the species occur in the proposed project area year-
round, some species only occur in the area during certain seasons. 
Humpback and minke whales are not expected in the project area in the 
winter. During the winter, a large portion of the North Atlantic right 
whale population occurs in the southeastern U.S. calving grounds (i.e., 
South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida). The fact that certain 
activities will occur during times when certain species are not 
commonly found in the area will help reduce the amount of Level B 
harassment for these species.
    Many animals perform vital functions, such as feeding, resting, 
traveling, and socializing, on a diel cycle (24-hr cycle). Behavioral 
reactions to noise exposure (such as disruption of critical life 
functions, displacement, or avoidance of important habitat) are more 
likely to be significant if they last more than one diel cycle or recur 
on subsequent days (Southall et al., 2007). Consequently, a behavioral 
response lasting less than one day and not recurring on subsequent days 
is not considered particularly severe unless it could directly affect 
reproduction or survival (Southall et al., 2007). Operational 
activities are not anticipated to occur at the Port on consecutive 
days. In addition, Northeast Gateway EBRVs are expected to make 65 port 
calls throughout the year, with thruster use needed for a couple of 
hours. Therefore, Northeast Gateway will not be creating increased 
sound levels in the marine environment for prolonged periods of time.
    Of the 13 marine mammal species likely to occur in the area, four 
are listed as endangered under the ESA: North Atlantic right, humpback, 
and fin whales. All of these species, as well as the northern coastal 
stock of bottlenose dolphin, are also considered depleted under the 
MMPA. There is currently no designated critical habitat or known 
reproductive areas for any of these species in or near the proposed 
project area. However, there are several well known North Atlantic 
right whale feeding grounds in the Cape Cod Bay and Great South 
Channel. No mortality or injury is expected to occur, and due to the 
nature, degree, and context of the Level B harassment anticipated, the 
activity is not expected to impact rates of recruitment or survival.
    The population estimates for the species that may be taken by Level 
B behavioral harassment contained in the most recent U.S. Atlantic 
Stock Assessment Reports were provided earlier in this document. From 
the most conservative estimates of both marine mammal densities in the 
project area and the size of the 120-dB ZOI, the maximum calculated 
number of individual marine mammals for each species that could 
potentially be harassed annually is small relative to the overall 
population sizes (1.73 percent for humpback whales and 1.32 percent for 
North Atlantic right whales and no more than 1 percent of any other 
species).
    Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the 
specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into 
consideration the implementation of the mitigation and monitoring 
measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that the operation activities of the 
Northeast Gateway LNG Port will result in the incidental take of small 
numbers of marine mammals, by Level B harassment only, and that the 
total taking from Northeast Gateway's proposed activities will have a

[[Page 43648]]

negligible impact on the affected species or stocks.

Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for 
Subsistence Uses

    There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated 
by this action. Therefore, NMFS has determined that the total taking of 
affected species or stocks would not have an unmitigable adverse impact 
on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for 
subsistence purposes.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

    On February 5, 2007, NMFS concluded consultation with MARAD and the 
USCG, under section 7 of the ESA, on the proposed construction and 
operation of the Northeast Gateway LNG facility and issued a biological 
opinion. The finding of that consultation was that the construction and 
operation of the Northeast Gateway LNG terminal may adversely affect, 
but is not likely to jeopardize, the continued existence of northern 
right, humpback, and fin whales, and is not likely to adversely affect 
sperm, sei, or blue whales and Kemp's ridley, loggerhead, green or 
leatherback sea turtles. An incidental take statement (ITS) was issued 
following NMFS' issuance of the 2007 IHA.
    On November 15, 2007, Northeast Gateway and Algonquin submitted a 
letter to NMFS requesting an extension for the LNG Port construction 
into December 2007. Upon reviewing Northeast Gateway's weekly marine 
mammal monitoring reports submitted under the previous IHA, NMFS 
recognized that the potential take of some marine mammals resulting 
from the LNG Port and Pipeline Lateral by Level B behavioral harassment 
likely had exceeded the original take estimates. Therefore, NMFS 
Northeast Region (NER) reinitiated consultation with MARAD and USCG on 
the construction and operation of the Northeast Gateway LNG facility. 
On November 30, 2007, NMFS NER issued a revised biological opinion, 
reflecting the revised construction time period and including a revised 
ITS. This revised biological opinion concluded that the construction 
and operation of the Northeast Gateway LNG terminal may adversely 
affect, but is not likely to jeopardize, the continued existence of 
northern right, humpback, and fin whales, and is not likely to 
adversely affect sperm, sei, or blue whales.
    NMFS' Permits, Conservation and Education division has 
preliminarily determined that the activities described in the proposed 
IHA are the same as those analyzed in the revised 2007 biological 
opinion. Therefore, a new consultation is not required for issuance of 
this IHA. If the IHA is issued, NMFS NER will need to issue a new ITS.

National Environmental Policy Act

    MARAD and the USCG released a Final EIS/Environmental Impact Report 
(EIR) for the proposed Northeast Gateway Port and Pipeline Lateral. A 
notice of availability was published by MARAD on October 26, 2006 (71 
FR 62657). The Final EIS/EIR provides detailed information on the 
proposed project facilities, construction methods and analysis of 
potential impacts on marine mammals.
    NMFS was a cooperating agency (as defined by the Council on 
Environmental Quality (40 CFR 1501.6)) in the preparation of the Draft 
and Final EISs. NMFS reviewed the Final EIS and adopted it on May 4, 
2007. NMFS issued a separate Record of Decision for issuance of 
authorizations pursuant to section 101(a)(5) of the MMPA for the 
construction and operation of the Northeast Gateway's LNG Port Facility 
in Massachusetts Bay.

    Dated: July 14, 2011.
Helen Golde,
Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2011-18320 Filed 7-20-11; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P