[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 251 (Friday, December 30, 2011)]
[Notices]
[Pages 82275-82277]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-33195]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XA885


Notice of Availability of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement 
for Effects of Oil and Gas Activities in the Arctic Ocean

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and

[[Page 82276]]

Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Notice of availability of a Draft Environmental Impact 
Statement; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS announces the availability of the ``Draft Environmental 
Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Effects of Oil and Gas Activities in 
the Arctic Ocean.'' Publication of this notice begins the official 
public comment period for this DEIS. The purpose of the DEIS is to 
evaluate, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act 
(NEPA), the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of 
implementing the alternative approaches for authorizing the take of 
marine mammals incidental to oil and gas exploration activities in the 
Arctic Ocean pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The 
U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management 
(BOEM) is a cooperating agency on this DEIS, and as such, this DEIS 
also evaluates the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts 
of implementing the alternative approaches for authorizing geological 
and geophysical (G&G) surveys and ancillary activities under the Outer 
Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) in the Arctic Ocean. The North 
Slope Borough (NSB) is also a cooperating agency on this DEIS.

DATES: All comments and written statements must be received no later 
than Monday, February 13, 2012.

ADDRESSES: Written comments and statements on the DEIS must be 
postmarked by February 13, 2012. Comments on the DEIS may be submitted 
by:
     Email: arcticeis.comments@noaa.gov.
     Mail: Office of Protected Resources, 1315 East-West 
Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.
     Fax: (301) 713-0376.
     Public Hearings: Oral and written comments will be 
accepted during the upcoming public hearings. See SUPPLEMENTARY 
INFORMATION, Public Hearings (below) for more information.
    Comments sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed 
a 25-megabyte file size. Information on this project can also be found 
on the Protected Resources Web page at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/eis/arctic.htm.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Candace Nachman, Jolie Harrison, or 
Michael Payne, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at (301) 427-8401 
or via email at arcticeis.comments@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    Sections 101 (a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) 
direct the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the 
incidental, but not intentional taking of small numbers 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 either regulations are issued or, if the taking 
is limited to harassment, a notice of proposed authorization is 
provided to the public for review. The term ``take'' under the MMPA 
means ``to harass, hunt, capture, kill or collect, or attempt to 
harass, hunt, capture, kill or collect.'' 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].''
    Authorization for incidental takings 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 takings 
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.''
    NMFS, as the lead federal agency, prepared this DEIS to evaluate a 
broad range of reasonably foreseeable levels of exploration activities 
and associated mitigation measures that may occur within the five-year 
period from the date of completion of the Final EIS and Record of 
Decision. BOEM and the NSB are serving as formal cooperating agencies; 
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is serving as a consulting 
agency; and NMFS is coordinating with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling 
Commission (AEWC) pursuant to our co-management agreement under the 
MMPA.
    NMFS has published this EIS to disclose the potential impacts 
associated with their issuance of ITAs for seismic surveys, ancillary 
activities, and exploratory drilling under section 101(a)(5) of the 
MMPA and BOEM's authorization of G&G permits and ancillary activities 
under the OCSLA.

Scoping

    On February 8, 2010, NMFS provided public notice (75 FR 6175) that 
it would prepare an EIS to analyze the environmental impacts of issuing 
ITAs pursuant to the MMPA to the oil and gas industry for the taking of 
marine mammals incidental to offshore exploration activities (e.g., 
seismic surveys and exploratory drilling) in Federal and state waters 
of the U.S. Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off Alaska. The 60-day public 
scoping period ended on April 9, 2010.
    Scoping was the first step in this NEPA process (as required under 
40 CFR 1501.7). Scoping provided an opportunity for the public and 
agencies to express their views and identify issues to be addressed in 
the DEIS.
    As part of scoping, NMFS hosted public meetings to introduce the 
proposed action, describe the EIS process, and solicit input on the 
issues and alternatives to be evaluated. Public scoping meetings were 
held in February and March 2010 in the communities of Kotzebue, Point 
Hope, Point Lay, Wainwright, Barrow, Nuiqsut, and Kaktovik and in 
Anchorage, Alaska. During the scoping comment period, 73 public 
comments were received. A report summarizing these comments is 
available on the project Web site at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/eis/arctic.htm.
    Issues identified by the public during the scoping process include, 
but are not limited to, concerns regarding potential impacts to marine 
mammals and habitat, subsistence uses of marine mammals, and other 
wildlife, as well as concerns regarding the potential for an oil spill. 
Some commenters also expressed concerns about meeting national energy 
demands. Substantive comments received during the public scoping period 
have been addressed in the DEIS.

Alternatives

    NMFS has evaluated five alternatives in the DEIS. NMFS has not 
identified a preferred alternative in the DEIS. In this DEIS, NMFS and 
BOEM present and assess a reasonable range of G&G, ancillary, and 
exploratory drilling activities expected to occur, as well as a 
reasonable range of mitigation measures, in order to accurately assess 
the potential consequences of issuing ITAs under the MMPA and permits 
under the OCSLA. The potential level of

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activity described by each alternative is based on recent Federal and 
state lease planning and recent industry plans for both seismic surveys 
and exploratory drilling programs in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. 
Each alternative also includes an analysis of a suite of standard and 
additional mitigation measures that have been identified to help reduce 
impacts to marine mammals and to ensure no unmitigable adverse impact 
on the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses. The suite 
of measures are considered and analyzed in all four of the action 
alternatives. The alternatives are summarized as follows:
    Alternative 1: No Action Alternative: Under the No Action 
Alternative, NMFS would not issue any ITAs under the MMPA for seismic 
surveys or exploratory drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, and 
BOEM would not issue G&G permits or authorize ancillary activities in 
the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.
    Alternative 2: Authorization for Level 1 Exploration Activity: 
Alternative 2 analyzes a certain amount of 2D/3D seismic, site 
clearance and high resolution shallow hazards, and on-ice seismic 
surveys and exploratory drilling programs to occur each year. 
Alternative 2 also evaluates a range of standard and additional 
mitigation measures that would be considered and incorporated into any 
issued authorization (on a case-by-case basis). Examples of standard 
and additional mitigation measures include measures to: reduce acoustic 
exposures (e.g., exclusion zones, flight altitude restrictions, time/
area closures); reduce non-acoustic exposures (e.g., vessel speed 
restrictions, oil spill prevention plans, limited or zero discharge 
requirements); and ensure no unmitigable adverse impact to subsistence 
uses (e.g., time/area closures, communication centers).
    Alternative 3: Authorization for Level 2 Exploration Activity: 
Alternative 3 analyzes a level of 2D/3D seismic, site clearance and 
high resolution shallow hazards, and on-ice seismic surveys and 
exploratory drilling programs to occur each year that is higher than 
the level contemplated under Alternative 2. The same suite of standard 
and additional mitigation measures that would be considered and 
incorporated into any issued authorization (on a case-by-case basis) 
under Alternative 2 is considered under Alternative 3.
    Alternative 4: Authorization for Level 2 Exploration Activity with 
Additional Required Time/Area Closures: Alternative 4 considers the 
same level of activity contemplated under Alternative 3 and also 
evaluates the same suite of standard and additional mitigation 
measures. However, certain time/area closures that would be considered 
on a case-by-case basis under the other alternatives would be required 
under Alternative 4. The time/area closures would be for specific areas 
important to biological productivity, life history functions for 
specific species of concern, and subsistence activities. Activities 
would not be permitted to occur in any of the time/area closures during 
the specific identified periods. Additionally, buffer zones around 
these time/area closures could potentially be included.
    Alternative 5: Authorization for Level 2 Exploration Activity with 
Use of Alternative Technologies: Alternative 5 considers the same level 
of activity contemplated under Alternative 3 and also evaluates the 
same suite of standard and additional mitigation measures. However, 
Alternative 5 also includes specific additional mitigation measures 
that focus on the use of alternative technologies that have the 
potential to augment or replace traditional airgun-based seismic 
exploration activities in the future.

Public Involvement

    Comments will be accepted at public hearings and during the public 
comment period, and must be submitted to NMFS by February 13, 2011 (see 
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). We request that you include in your 
comments: (1) Your name, address, and affiliation (if any); and (2) 
background documents to support your comments as appropriate.
    Public scoping meetings will be held in late January and early 
February 2012, in the communities of Barrow, Kaktovik, Kivalina, 
Kotzebue, Nuiqsut, Point Hope, Point Lay, and Wainwright. However, the 
final dates and times have not yet been set. A supplement to this 
Notice of Availability will be published with the final meeting dates, 
times, and locations. Comments will be accepted at all public meetings, 
as well as during the public comment period and can be submitted via 
the methods described earlier in this document (see ADDRESSES).

    Dated: December 20, 2011.
James H. Lecky,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2011-33195 Filed 12-29-11; 8:45 am]
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