[Federal Register Volume 70, Number 183 (Thursday, September 22, 2005)]
[Pages 55630-55631]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 05-18962]



Notice of Intent To Prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact 
Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement for the National 
Science Foundation To Address Potential Impacts on the Marine 
Environment Related to the Use of Seismic Sources in Support of NSF-
Funded Research by U.S. Academic Scientists.

AGENCY: National Science Foundation.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: Pursuant to section 102(2)(c) of the National Environmental 
Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, as implemented by the Council on 
Environmental Quality regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508), the 
National Science Foundation (NSF) announces its intent to prepare a 
Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental 
Impact Statement (EIS/OES) to evaluate the potential environmental 
impacts associated with the use of seismic sources in support of NSF-
funded research by U.S. academic scientists. The National Marine 
Fisheries Service (NMFS), a part of the National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration, is being invited to be a cooperating agency 
in the preparation of the Programmatic EIS/OES.
    Publication of this notice begins the official scoping process that 
will help identify alternatives and determine the scope of 
environmental issues to be addressed in the Programmatic EIS/OEIS. This 
notice requests public participation in the scoping process and 
provides information on how to participate.

ADDRESSES AND DATES: Public-scoping meetings will be held at the 
following dates, times, and locations:
    1. Wednesday, October 5, 2005, 1-5 p.m., Silver Spring Metro Center 
Building 4, Science Center, 1301 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD;
    2. Thursday, October 6, 2005, 5-9 p.m., J. Erick Jonhhon Center of 
the National Academy of Sciences, Carriage House, 314 Quissett Avenue, 
Woods Hole, MA;
    3. Wednesday, October 12, 2005, 5-9 p.m., Room C126, 1000 Discovery 
Drive, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX;
    4. Friday, October 14, 2005, 5-9 p.m., Egan Civic and Convention 
Center, 555 West Fifth Avenue, Anchorage, AK;
    5. Monday, October 17, 2005, 5-9 p.m., 100 Vaughn Hall, Discovery 
Way, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA; and
    6. Wednesday, October 19, 2005, 5-9 p.m., Ala Moana Hotel, 410 
Atkinson Drive, Honolulu, HI.
    Written comments will be accepted at these meetings as well as 
during the scoping period, and can be mailed to NSF by October 28, 2005 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Written statements and questions 
regarding the scoping process should be mailed to Dr. Alexander Shor, 
Program Director, Oceanographic Instrumentation and Technical Services, 
Division of Ocean Sciences, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson 
Boulevard, Suite 725, Arlington, VA 22230; voice (703) 292-8583 or e-
mail at OCE-EIS@nsf.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: In the last 2 years, NSF has prepared 16 
environmental assessments (EAs) on the impact of seismic noise on 
endangered species and marine mammals during planned marine research 
projects concerning the geology and geophysics of the seafloor. The EAs 
were prepared for various worldwide, academic research cruises that 
required the use of various marine seismic sources. These EAs were 
intended to address regulations and public concern over anthropogenic 
noise in the marine environment and its possible, negative impacts on 
marine life. They were prepared to address U.S. laws and regulations, 
including NEPA; the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA); the 
endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA); and Executive Order (EO) 12114 
(1979), Environmental Effects Abroad of Major Federal Actions. In some 
cases they have also been used as background information to address 
foreign regulations, especially where research has been carried out 
entirely or partially within territorial waters or Exclusive Economic 
Zone waters surrounding a foreign nation.
    In each case, the NSF EA and a Finding of No Significant Impact 
(FONSI) has been used as the basis for consultation with NMFS Office of 
Protected Resources (OPR) under Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA, and in each 
case for which an action is finalized, NMFS OPR has issued a Biological 
Opinion and a related Incidental Take Statement authorizing the 
proposed project to be undertaken, and indicating any mitigation 
measures needed to reduce impacts on endangered species. In parallel 
with this effort, a separate application has been submitted for each 
cruise to apply for an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) under 
the MMPA from NMFS OPR, and an IHA has also been issued by NMFS for 
each of the projects. Increasingly over the past 2 years, public 
comments have expressed concern that by evaluating individual projects 
in isolation, the cumulative impacts of NSF-funded seismic activities 
on the marine environment are not being adequately addressed. NSF and 
NMFS OPR personnel have examined this concern and have concluded that a 
Programmatic EIS/OEIS could provide both the holistic view of 
cumulative impacts, as well as provide the principal technical and 
environmental foundation to form the basis of evaluating environmental 
impacts of most NSF-funded seismic efforts.
    The Programmatic EIS/OEIS will take a view of the planned program 
as a whole and thereby assemble and analyze the broadest range of 
direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts associated with the entire 
program rather than assessing individual cruises separately. This 
approach will also address possible concerns that NSF is analyzing 
their research program in segments, rather than holistically where the 
true cumulative impacts of the entire program can be identified. 
Further, the parent Programmatic EIS/OEIS will provide a broad 
analytical backdrop within which NSF, using tiered documents, will be 
able to analyze cruise-specific issues relevant for analysis and 
decision. Additionally, it will streamline the preparation of 
subsequent environmental documents for the individual cruises and also

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enable NSF to identify any prudent conservation practices and 
mitigation measures that may be applied across the entire program. The 
site-specific information is required by NMFS (and sometimes the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service) for purposes of preparing Biological 
Opinions and Incidental Take Statements required by ESA.
    The main focus of the Programmatic EIS/OEIS will be on the seismic 
operations to be conducted from NSF's primary seismic ship, soon to be 
the R/V Marcus G. Langseth. The Programmatic EIS/OEIS will address the 
variety of airgun configurations to be operated from the Langseth, as 
well as the multi-beam bathymetric sonar, sub-bottom profiler, and 
other acoustic sources to be deployed as standard equipment. In 
addition, the Programmatic EIS/OEIS will deal with the generally small 
airgun sources occasionally operated from other vessels under NSF 
    Major environmental issues that will be addressed in the 
Programmatic EIS/OEIS include marine biological resources including 
Essential Fish Habitat (EFH), acoustic impacts to marine mammals, fish, 
sea turtles, invertebrates, and threatened and endangered species; 
cultural resources; human health and safety; socioeconomics and land 
use (i.e., commercial, private, and recreational uses of the marine 
environment); and water quality.
    NSF is initiating this scoping process for the purpose of 
determining the extent of issues to be addressed and identifying the 
significant issues related to this action. NSF will hold public scoping 
meetings as identified in the DATES AND ADDRESSES section of this 
notice. These meetings will also be advertised in area newspapers. NSF 
and NMFS representatives will be available at these meetings to receive 
comments from the public regarding issues of concern to the public. 
Federal, state, and local agencies and interested individuals are 
encouraged to take this opportunity to identify environmental concerns 
that should be addressed during the preparation of the Programmatic 
EIS/OEIS. Agencies and the public are also invited and encouraged to 
provide written comments on scoping issues in addition to, or in lieu 
of, oral comments at the public meeting. To be most helpful, scoping 
comments should clearly describe issues or topics that the commenter 
believes the Programmatic EIS/OEIS should address.
    We invite you to learn about the NSF seismic research program at an 
informational open house, and to assist NSF in defining the 
alternatives and the scope of environmental issues related to the 
seismic research program. All our public meeting locations are 
wheelchair-accessible. If you plan to attend a scoping meeting/open 
house, and need special assistance such as sign language interpretation 
or other reasonable accommodation, please notify NSF (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT) at least 3 business days in advance. Include your 
contact information as well as information about your specific needs.
    We request public comments or other relevant information on 
environmental issues related to the NSF seismic research program. The 
public meetings are not the only opportunity you have to comment. In 
addition to or in place of attending a meeting, you can submit comments 
to Dr. Alexander Shor by October 28, 2005 (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT). We will consider all comments received during the comment 
period. We request that you include in your comments:
     Your name and address (especially if you would like to 
receive a copy of the Draft Programmatic EIS/OEIS upon completion);
     An explanation for each comment; and
     Include any background materials to support your comments 
as you feel necessary.
    You may mail, e-mail, or hand deliver your comments to NSF (see FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). All comment submissions must be unbound, 
no larger than 8\1/2\ by 11 inches, and suitable for copying and 
electronic scanning. Please note that regardless of the method used for 
submitting comments or material, all submissions will be publicly 
available and, therefore, any personal information you provide in your 
comments will be open for public review. In addition, if you wish to 
receive a copy of the Draft Programmatic EIS/OEIS, please indicate this 
in your comment. No decision will be made to implement any alternative 
until the NEPA process is completed.

    Dated: September 19, 2005.
Alexander Shor,
Program Director, Division of Ocean Sciences, National Science 
[FR Doc. 05-18962 Filed 9-21-05; 8:45 am]