[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 19 (Thursday, January 29, 2015)]
[Pages 4915-4917]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-01704]



[FRL-9922-22-Region 10]

Issuance of an NPDES General Permit for Oil and Gas Geotechnical 
Surveys and Related Activities in Federal Waters of the Beaufort and 
Chukchi Seas

AGENCY: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

[[Page 4916]]

ACTION: Notice of availability of final NPDES general permit.


SUMMARY: The Director, Office of Water and Watersheds, EPA Region 10, 
is publishing notice of availability of the final National Pollutant 
Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit for Oil and Gas 
Geotechnical Surveys and Related Activities in Federal Waters of the 
Beaufort and Chukchi Seas (Geotechnical General Permit; Permit No. AKG-
    The Geotechnical General Permit authorizes twelve types of 
discharges from facilities engaged in oil and gas geotechnical surveys 
to evaluate the subsurface characteristics of the seafloor and related 
activities in federal waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. 
Geotechnical borings are collected to assess the structural properties 
of subsurface soil conditions for potential placement of oil and gas 
installations, which may include production and drilling platforms, ice 
islands, anchor structures for floating exploration drilling vessels, 
and potential buried pipeline corridors. Geotechnical surveys result in 
a disturbance of the seafloor and produce discharges consisting of 
soil, rock and cuttings materials, in addition to facility-specific 
waste streams authorized under this General Permit. Geotechnical 
related activities also result in a disturbance of the seafloor and 
produce similar discharges. These activities may include feasibility 
testing of equipment that disturbs the seafloor, and testing and 
evaluation of trenching technologies. The Geotechnical General Permit 
contains effluent limitations and requirements that ensure the 
discharges will not cause an unreasonable degradation of the marine 
environment, as required by Section 403(c) of the Clean Water Act (i.e. 
Ocean Discharge Criteria Evaluation). 33 U.S.C. 1342(c).

DATES: The issuance date of the Geotechnical NPDES General Permit is 
the date of publication of this notice. The Geotechnical General Permit 
shall become effective on March 2, 2015. Operators must submit a Notice 
of Intent (NOI) to discharge at least 90 days prior to initiation of 

ADDRESSES: Copies of the Geotechnical General Permit, the Response to 
Comments Document, and the Ocean Discharge Criteria Evaluation may be 
found on the EPA Region 10 Web site at: http://yosemite.epa.gov/r10/water.nsf/npdes+permits/arctic-gp. Copies of the documents are 
available upon request.
    Mail: Written requests for copies of the documents may be submitted 
to Audrey Washington, EPA Region 10, Office of Water and Watersheds, 
1200 6th Avenue, Suite 900, OWW-191, Seattle, WA 98101-3140.
    Email: Electronic requests may be sent to: 
[email protected].
    Telephone: Requests by telephone may be made to Audrey Washington 
at (206) 553-0523. See SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION for other document 
viewing locations.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Erin Seyfried, Office of Water and 
Watersheds, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 10, Mail Stop 
OWW-191, 1200 6th Avenue, Suite 900, Seattle, WA 98101-3140, (206) 553-
1448, [email protected].

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: On November 22, 2013, EPA issued a draft 
Geotechnical General Permit for public review, and established a 
comment deadline of January 27, 2014 (78 FR 70042). Notice of the draft 
General Permit was also published in the Anchorage Daily News, the 
Arctic Sounder, and Petroleum News. Public meetings and hearings were 
held in communities on the North Slope and in Anchorage the week of 
January 6, 2014. In response to requests for an extension of the 
deadline from the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and the Inupiat 
Community of the Arctic Slope, EPA extended the comment period for an 
additional 23 days, from January 27, 2014 to February 19, 2014 (79 FR 
    Based on comments received during public review of the draft 
Geotechnical General Permit, EPA determined that certain permit 
provisions warranted further consideration and notified interested 
parties of this determination on March 21, 2014. To further that 
process, EPA met with several commenters to clarify certain technical 
issues and obtain additional information. The public comments and 
subsequent information resulted in EPA revising several permit 
provisions, which were described in the Fact Sheet accompanying the re-
    On August 15, 2014, EPA re-proposed the Geotechnical General Permit 
for public review, and established a comment deadline of September 15, 
2014 (79 FR 48147). In response to requests for an extension of the 
deadline from the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, EPA extended the 
comment period for an additional 15 days, from September 15, 2014 to 
September 30, 2014 (79 FR 56577).
    Certain provisions in the General Permit have been revised in 
response to comments and information received from tribal, state and 
local governments, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, environmental 
advocacy groups, industry representatives, and individual citizens. All 
comments, along with EPA's responses, are summarized in the Response to 
Comments document.
    Document Viewing Locations. The final Geotechnical General Permit, 
Response to Comments Document and Ocean Discharge Criteria Evaluation 
may also be viewed at the following locations:
    (1) EPA Region 10 Library, Park Place Building, 1200 6th Avenue, 
Suite 900, Seattle, WA 98101; (206) 553-1289.
    (2) EPA Region 10, Alaska Operations Office, 222 W 7th Avenue, #19, 
Room 537, Anchorage, AK 99513; (907) 271-5083.
    (3) Z.J. Loussac Public Library, 3600 Denali Street, Anchorage, AK 
99503; (907) 343-2975.
    (4) North Slope Borough School District Library/Media Center, Pouch 
169, 829 Aivak Street, Barrow, AK 99723; (907) 852-5311.
    EPA's administrative record for the Geotechnical General Permit is 
available for review at the EPA Region 10 Office, Park Place Building, 
1200 6th Avenue, Suite 900, Seattle, WA 98101, between 9:00 a.m. and 
4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Contact Erin Seyfried at 
[email protected] or (206) 553-1448.
    Oil Spill Requirements. Section 311 of the Act, 33 U.S.C. 1321, 
prohibits the discharge of oil and hazardous materials in harmful 
quantities. Discharges authorized under the Geotechnical General Permit 
are excluded from the provisions of CWA Section 311, 33 U.S.C. 1321. 
However, the Geotechnical General Permit will not preclude the 
institution of legal action, or relieve the permittees from any 
responsibilities, liabilities, or penalties for other unauthorized 
discharges of oil and hazardous materials, which are covered by Section 
    Endangered Species Act. Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, 16 
U.S.C. 1531-1544, requires federal agencies to consult with the 
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service (USFWS) if their actions have the potential to either 
beneficially or adversely affect any threatened or endangered species, 
or designated critical habitat. EPA analyzed the discharges proposed to 
be authorized by the Geotechnical General Permit, and their potential 
to adversely affect any of the threatened or endangered species or 
designated critical habitat areas in the vicinity of the discharges in 
a Biological Evaluation dated December 2013. EPA completed a 
supplemental analysis evaluating the effects of interrelated and

[[Page 4917]]

interdependent actions on the Pacific walrus on February 11, 2014. On 
January 31 and March 19, 2014, EPA received letters of concurrence from 
the USFWS and NMFS, respectively, agreeing with EPA's determinations of 
effects. On March 13, 2014, in response to EPA's request for a 
conference on the Pacific walrus, the USFWS confirmed that the proposed 
permit action would not jeopardize the continued existence of this 
    Essential Fish Habitat. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation 
and Management Act requires EPA to consult with NMFS when a proposed 
permit action has the potential to adversely affect Essential Fish 
Habitat (EFH). EPA's EFH assessment is included as Appendix A to the 
BE. The EFH assessment concluded that the discharges authorized by the 
Geotechnical General Permit will not adversely affect EFH.
    Coastal Zone Management Act. As of July 1, 2011, there is no longer 
a Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) program in Alaska. Consequently, 
federal agencies are no longer required to provide the State of Alaska 
with CZMA consistency determinations.
    Executive Order 12866. The Office of Management and Budget exempts 
this action from the review requirements of Executive Order 12866 
pursuant to Section 6 of that order.
    Paperwork Reduction Act. EPA has reviewed the requirements imposed 
on regulated facilities in the Geotechnical General Permit and finds 
them consistent with the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, 44 U.S.C. 
3501 et seq.
    Regulatory Flexibility Act. Under the Regulatory Flexibility Act 
(RFA), 5 U.S.C. 601 et seq., a federal agency must prepare an initial 
regulatory flexibility analysis ``for any proposed rule'' for which the 
agency ``is required by section 553 of the Administrative Procedure Act 
(APA), or any other law, to publish general notice of proposed 
rulemaking.'' The RFA exempts from this requirement any rule that the 
issuing agency certifies ``will not, if promulgated, have a significant 
economic impact on a substantial number of small entities.'' EPA has 
concluded that NPDES general permits are permits, not rulemakings, 
under the APA and thus not subject to APA rulemaking requirements or 
the RFA.
    Unfunded Mandates Reform Act. Section 201 of the Unfunded Mandates 
Reform Act (UMRA), Public Law 104-4, generally requires federal 
agencies to assess the effects of their ``regulatory actions'' (defined 
to be the same as ``rules'' subject to the RFA) on tribal, state, and 
local governments and the private sector. However, the Geotechnical 
General Permit is not a ``rule'' subject to the RFA, and are therefore 
not subject to the UMRA.
    Appeal of Permit. Any interested person may appeal the Geotechnical 
General Permit in the Federal Court of Appeals in accordance with 
section 509(b)(1) of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1369(b)(1). This 
appeal must be filed within 120 days of the General Permit issuance 
date. Affected persons may not challenge the conditions of the General 
Permit in further EPA proceedings (see 40 CFR 124.19). Instead, they 
may either challenge the general permit in court or apply for an 
individual NPDES permit.

    Authority: This action is taken under the authority of Section 
402 of the Clean Water Act as amended, 33 U.S.C. 1342. I hereby 
provide public notice of the final Geotechnical General Permit in 
accordance with 40 CFR 124.15(b).

    Dated: January 21, 2015.
Daniel D. Opalski,
Director, Office of Water and Watersheds, Region 10.
[FR Doc. 2015-01704 Filed 1-28-15; 8:45 am]