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NOAA Considering Regulations Addressing Marine Mammals Taking by Oil and Gas Seismic Surveys


 By Genevieve J. Essig


Yesterday, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced that it had received a revised application from the U.S. DOI Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) (formerly Minerals Management Service (MMS)), for authorization to take marine mammals by harassment incidental to oil and gas industry seismic surveys conducted during geological and geophysical (G&G) exploration of the Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico. 76 FR 34656 (June 14, 2011). The notice states that, according to BOEMRE, underwater noise and pressure related to these activities may cause behavioral disturbance or damage to hearing sensitivity of marine mammals.  Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the agency will upon request grant an authorization for "the incidental, but not intentional, taking . . . of small numbers of marine mammals of a species or population stock" if it finds that the taking will have a "negligible impact" (see 50 CFR 216.103) on the species or stock and will not have an "unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or stock for taking for subsistence uses"; and prescribes regulations setting forth permissible methods of taking and other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on the species or stock and its habitat as well as requirements for

the monitoring and reporting of such taking.  According to the notice, the requested regulations "would establish a framework for authorizing incidental take in future Letters of Authorization (LOA)," which, if approved, would authorize the take by harassment of 21 species incidental to seismic surveys in this context. MMS previously submitted an application for an incidental take authorization in 2003. In 2004, the agency published a notice of intent to prepare an EIS.

The notice invites submission of information, suggestions, and comments related to BOEMRE's request and states: "All information, suggestions, and comments related to BOEMRE's request and NMFS's potential development and implementation of regulations governing the incidental taking of marine mammals by the oil and gas industry's seismic surveys will be considered by NMFS in developing the most effective regulations governing the issuance of Letters of Authorization." The submission deadline is July 14, 2011.

A copy of the notice can be viewed here.