[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 61 (Friday, March 29, 2013)]
[Notices]
[Pages 19212-19214]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-07312]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XC587


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

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

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

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SUMMARY: NMFS announces the availability of the ``Supplemental Draft 
Environmental Impact Statement (Supplemental 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 Supplemental 
DEIS. The purpose of the Supplemental 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. The 
Environmental Protection Agency is serving as a consulting agency, and 
NMFS is coordinating with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission pursuant 
to our co-management agreement under the MMPA.

DATES: Written, telefaxed, or electronic comments must be received on 
or before May 28, 2013.

ADDRESSES: The Supplemental DEIS is available for review online at 
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/eis/arctic.htm. You may submit 
comments on this document, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2013-0054, by any of 
the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal www.regulations.gov. To 
submit comments via the e-Rulemaking Portal, enter NOAA-NMFS-2013-0054 
in the keyword search. Locate the document you wish to comment on from 
the resulting list and click on the ``Comment Now'' icon on the right 
of that line.
     Mail: Office of Protected Resources, 1315 East-West 
Highway, Room 13115, Silver Spring, MD 20910
     Fax: (301) 713-0376, Attn: Candace Nachman
     Public Hearings: Oral and written comments will be 
accepted during the upcoming public meetings. See SUPPLEMENTARY 
INFORMATION, Public Meetings (below) for more information.
    Instructions: Comments must be submitted by one of the above 
methods to ensure that the comments are received, documented, and 
considered by NMFS. Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered. All comments received are a part of the public 
record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address, etc.) submitted voluntarily by the 
sender will be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive or protected information. NMFS will 
accept anonymous comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you 
wish to remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be 
accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel or Adobe PDF file formats only.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Candace Nachman, Jolie Harrison, or 
Michael Payne, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at (301) 427-8401.

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 or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, 
capture, or kill.'' 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 Supplemental DEIS 
to evaluate a broad range of reasonably foreseeable levels of 
exploration activities and associated mitigation measures that may 
occur in the U.S. Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. 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 Supplemental DEIS to disclose the potential 
impacts associated with their issuance of incidental take

[[Page 19213]]

authorizations (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.

Process History for this EIS

    On February 8, 2010, NMFS, as lead agency, announced its intent to 
prepare an EIS analyzing the impacts to the human environment from the 
issuance of MMPA ITAs for the take of marine mammals incidental to oil 
and gas industry exploration activities in the U.S. Arctic Ocean and 
BOEM's proposed action of issuing G&G permits and authorization of 
ancillary activities in the U.S. Arctic Ocean under the OCSLA (75 FR 
6175). The 60-day public scoping period ended on April 9, 2010.
    On December 30, 2011, NMFS published a Notice of Availability of 
the DEIS in the Federal Register (76 FR 82275). The 2011 DEIS includes 
an analysis of the proposed actions identified in the 2010 NOI (i.e., 
NMFS' issuance of MMPA ITAs for take of marine mammals incidental to 
G&G surveys, ancillary activities, and exploratory drilling in the 
Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and BOEM's issuance of G&G permits and 
authorizations of ancillary activities in the Chukchi and Beaufort 
Seas), the anticipated environmental impacts, and other measures to 
minimize the impacts associated with these activities. The 60-day 
public comment period closed on February 28, 2012.
    In light of comments received on the 2011 DEIS, NMFS and BOEM 
determined that the Final EIS would benefit from the inclusion of an 
additional alternative for analysis that covers a broader range of 
potential levels of exploratory drilling scenarios in the Beaufort and 
Chukchi Seas. NMFS published an NOI to prepare a Supplemental DEIS in 
the Federal Register on January 30, 2013 (78 FR 6303). Additional 
information about the NOI can be found in that notice.

Alternatives

    The alternatives analyzed in the 2011 DEIS are summarized in the 
DEIS Notice of Availability (76 FR 82275, December 30, 2011). However, 
as noted previously NMFS and BOEM concluded that an additional activity 
level scenario should be considered in the Supplemental DEIS. 
Consistent with the 2011 DEIS, the alternatives 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. Each alternative 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 primary difference between this Supplemental DEIS and the 2011 
DEIS is in the treatment of alternatives. In particular, NMFS and BOEM 
analyze an additional alternative that considers up to four exploratory 
drilling programs in the Beaufort Sea and up to four exploratory 
drilling programs in the Chukchi Sea per year. In the 2011 Draft EIS, 
the maximum level of exploratory drilling considered in the 
alternatives was two exploratory drilling programs in the Beaufort Sea 
and two exploratory drilling programs in the Chukchi Sea per year. 
Table 1 outlines the activity levels considered in each action 
alternative. Activity levels noted are a maximum for each alternative.

  Table 1--Levels of G&G, Ancillary, and Exploratory Drilling Activities Proposed for Consideration in the Alternatives in the Supplemental DEIS on the
Effects of Oil and Gas Activities in the Arctic Ocean. Activity Levels Noted Are a Maximum, and any Combination up to That Amount Could Be Allowed Under
                                                                    Each Alternative.
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                                                              Site clearance and
                                         2D/3D seismic         shallow hazards         On-ice seismic                  Exploratory drilling
                                            surveys                surveys                surveys
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Alternative 1 (No Action)..........  0....................  0....................  0....................  0
Alternative 2 (Level 1)............  4 in Beaufort........  3 in Beaufort........  1 in Beaufort........  1 in Beaufort.
                                     3 in Chukchi.........  3 in Chukchi.........  0 in Chukchi.........  1 in Chukchi.
Alternative 3 (Level 2)............  6 in Beaufort........  5 in Beaufort........  1 in Beaufort........  2 in Beaufort.
                                     5 in Chukchi.........  5 in Chukchi.........  0 in Chukchi.........  2 in Chukchi.
Alternative 4 (Level 3)............  6 in Beaufort........  5 in Beaufort........  1 in Beaufort........  4 in Beaufort.
                                     5 in Chukchi.........  5 in Chukchi.........  0 in Chukchi.........  4 in Chukchi.
Alternative 5 (Level 3 with          6 in Beaufort........  5 in Beaufort........  1 in Beaufort........  4 in Beaufort.
 required time/area closures).       5 in Chukchi.........  5 in Chukchi.........  0 in Chukchi.........  4 in Chukchi.
Alternative 6 (any level with        6 in Beaufort........  5 in Beaufort........  1 in Beaufort........  Any level up to the maximum, as the technology
 required use of alternative         5 in Chukchi.........  5 in Chukchi.........  0 in Chukchi.........   only relates to seismic surveys.
 technologies).
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    Alternatives 5 and 6 differ from Alternatives 2, 3, and 4 in the 
fact that each one considers required mitigation measures not 
contemplated in the other action alternatives. Certain time/area 
closures considered for mitigation on a case-by-case basis under the 
other action alternatives would be required under Alternative 5. 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.
    In addition to contemplating the same suite of standard and 
additional mitigation measures analyzed in the other action 
alternatives, Alternative 6 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.

Summary of Sections With Substantive Changes From the 2011 DEIS

    The following is a brief overview of the major changes in the 
Supplemental DEIS from the DEIS released in December 2011. This 
overview is provided to aid the public in their review of the full 
document. A more detailed overview can be found online

[[Page 19214]]

on the project Web site at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/eis/arctic.htm.

Alternatives (Chapter 2)

     Section 2.4.7 contains the description of the newly added 
alternative.
     Sections 2.4.8 and 2.4.9 are the new Alternatives 5 and 6, 
previously described as Alternatives 4 and 5 in the 2011 DEIS.
     Section 2.4.8.2 contains the updated list of time/area 
closures contemplated under Alternative 5 and as additional mitigation 
measures under Alternatives 2, 3, 4, and 6.

Baseline Information (Chapter 3)

     Sections 3.2.4 and 3.3.2 contained updated information 
regarding marine mammals and subsistence resources based on literature 
and data provided during the public comment period.

Mitigation Measure Analysis (Chapter 4)

     Sections 4.5.2.4.15 and 4.5.2.4.16 contain the updated 
analysis of standard and additional mitigation measures, respectively, 
with the primary purpose of reducing impacts to marine mammals.
     Sections 4.5.3.2.3 and 4.5.3.2.5 contain the updated 
analysis of standard and additional mitigation measures, respectively, 
with the primary purpose of reducing impacts to subsistence uses of 
marine mammals.
     For each measure, we outlined activities to which it 
applies (e.g. just seismic surveys or just exploratory drilling or all 
activities), the purpose of the measure, the science, support for 
reduction of impacts to marine mammals or subsistence availability of 
marine mammals, the likelihood of effectiveness, the history of 
implementation of the measure, practicability for applicant 
implementation, and recommendation for how, and if, to apply the 
measure in future MMPA ITAs.

Impact Analyses (Chapter 4)

     Table 4.5-19, page 4-91, and Table 4.5-25, page 4-184 
contain revised impact criteria for the assessment of potential impacts 
to marine mammals and subsistence resources to include additional 
factors that more closely align with analyses conducted under the MMPA.
     Section 4.2.6 is a new section in this Supplemental DEIS. 
This section includes information regarding the process NMFS has 
initiated to revise the acoustic criteria, which are currently used by 
NOAA to determine the received sound level at which injury or 
behavioral harassment of marine mammals from seismic airguns may occur. 
The acoustic criteria process will (separate from this EIS process) 
include both a public and external peer review process. At this time, 
we are still in the internal review process for the acoustic criteria, 
but we have included key basic information about the likely nature of 
the revisions to the criteria that adds value to the environmental 
analysis contained in this Supplemental DEIS. We refer the public to 
the separate acoustic criteria document for comment when it is made 
available in the coming months. The schedules for finalization of the 
Final EIS and the acoustic criteria are similar.

Public Meetings

    Comments will be accepted at public meetings and during the public 
comment period, and must be submitted to NMFS by the comment deadline 
(see DATES). We request that you include background documents to 
support your comments as appropriate.
    Public meetings will be held the week of April 8, 2013, in the 
communities of Barrow and Kotzebue and in Anchorage. Dates, times, and 
locations of each meeting will be announced in advance in local media. 
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: March 26, 2013.
Helen M. Golde,
Acting Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2013-07312 Filed 3-28-13; 8:45 am]
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