[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 204 (Friday, October 21, 2016)]
[Notices]
[Pages 72780-72781]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-25475]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XE841


Notice of Availability of a Final 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 Final Environmental Impact 
Statement; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS announces the availability of the ``Final Environmental 
Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Effects of Oil and Gas Activities in 
the Arctic Ocean.'' The purpose of the FEIS 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 take of marine mammals 
incidental to oil and gas 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) was a cooperating 
agency on this FEIS, and as such, this FEIS also evaluates the 
potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of implementing the 
alternative approaches for authorizing geological and geophysical (G&G) 
surveys and concurring on ancillary activities under the Outer 
Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) in the Arctic Ocean. The North 
Slope Borough (NSB) was also a cooperating agency on this FEIS. The 
Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 
were consulting agencies, and NMFS coordinated with the Alaska Eskimo 
Whaling Commission pursuant to our co-management agreement under the 
MMPA.

DATES: Federal, State, and local agencies, as well as other interested 
parties, are invited to review this FEIS. Comments must be received on 
or before November 21, 2016, to be considered for our Record of 
Decision. The Record of Decision will include information on the 
alternatives considered, the preferred alternative and why we chose it, 
and required mitigation and monitoring.

ADDRESSES: The FEIS is available for review online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/eis/arctic.htm. You may submit comments on 
this document by:
     Email: Candace.Nachman@noaa.gov.
     Fax: (301) 713-0376, Attn: Jolie Harrison.
     Mail: NOAA, NMFS, Office of Protected Resources, 1315 
East-West Highway, Room 13805, Silver Spring, MD 20910, Attn: Jolie 
Harrison.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Candace Nachman, Office of Policy, 
NMFS at (301) 427-8031, or Jolie Harrison, 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

[[Page 72781]]

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 FEIS 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. The FEIS presents the potential impacts associated 
with the issuance of incidental take authorizations (ITAs) under 
section 101(a)(5) of the MMPA for seismic surveys, ancillary 
activities, and exploratory drilling. NMFS recognizes that the current 
level of oil and gas exploration activities is lower than what 
previously occurred and what was projected when the scoping process for 
this EIS began in February 2010. However, NMFS still receives requests 
for MMPA ITAs in the U.S. Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, and this FEIS 
provides decision-makers and the public with an evaluation of the 
environmental, social, and economic effects of the proposed action and 
alternatives.
    On December 30, 2011, NMFS published a Notice of Availability of 
the Draft EIS in the Federal Register (76 FR 82275). The 2011 Draft EIS 
includes an analysis of the proposed actions identified in the 2010 
Notice of Intent (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 concurrence on ancillary activities in the 
Chukchi and Beaufort Seas), the anticipated environmental impacts, and 
measures to minimize the impacts associated with these activities. On 
March 29, 2013, NMFS published a Notice of Availability of a 
Supplemental Draft EIS in the Federal Register (78 FR 19212). The 
Supplemental Draft EIS included one new alternative not contained in 
the 2011 Draft EIS and a few other substantive changes. Please refer to 
the Notices of Availability for the Draft and Supplemental Draft EISs 
for that information.

Alternatives

    NMFS evaluated a preferred alternative (Alternative 2) and five 
others in the FEIS. 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. Each alternative also considers a reasonable range of oil and gas 
exploration activities for which MMPA ITAs could be issued. Table 1 
outlines the activity levels considered in each 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 FEIS 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
                                        surveys             surveys             surveys            drilling
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Alternative 1 (No Action).......  0.................  0.................  0.................  0.
Alternative 2--Preferred          4 in Beaufort.....  3 in Beaufort.....  1 in Beaufort.....  1 in Beaufort
 Alternative (Level 1).           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
 required use of alternative      5 in Chukchi......  5 in Chukchi......  0 in Chukchi......   the maximum, as
 technologies).                                                                                the technology
                                                                                               only relates to
                                                                                               seismic surveys.
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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.

    Dated: October 17, 2016.
Donna S. Wieting,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2016-25475 Filed 10-20-16; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P