Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Offshore Exploratory Drilling in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska, 31816-31831 [E8-12513]

Download as PDF 31816 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices review if the subject merchandise is sold in the United States through an importer that is affiliated with such exporter or producer. The request must include the name(s) of the exporter or producer for which the inquiry is requested. Interested parties must submit applications for disclosure under administrative protective orders in accordance with 19 CFR 351.305. On January 22, 2008, the Department published Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Proceedings: Documents Submission Procedures; APO Procedures (73 FR 3634). Those procedures apply to administrative reviews included in this notice of initiation. Parties wishing to participate in any of these administrative reviews should ensure that they meet the requirements of these procedures (e.g., the filing of separate letters of appearance as discussed at 19 CFR 351.103(d)). These initiations and this notice are in accordance with section 751(a) of the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended (19 U.S.C. 1675(a)), and 19 CFR 351.221(c)(1)(i). Dated: May 29, 2008. Stephen J. Claeys, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Import Administration. [FR Doc. E8–12468 Filed 6–3–08; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–DS–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XI02 Endangered Species and Marine Mammals; File No. 10014–01 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; issuance of permit amendment. rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES AGENCY: SUMMARY: Notice is hereby given that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), Division of Science, Research and Technology, P.O. Box 409, Trenton, NJ 08625–0409 has been issued a permit amendment to take marine mammals for purposes of scientific research. ADDRESSES: The permit and related documents are available for review upon written request or by appointment in the following offices: Permits, Conservation and Education Division, Office of Protected Resources, VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Room 13705, Silver Spring, MD 20910; phone (301)713–2289; fax (301)427–2521; and Northeast Region, NMFS, One Blackburn Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930–2298; phone (978)281–9300; fax (978)281–9394. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Patrick Opay or Kate Swails, (301)713– 2289. On April 9, 2008, notice was published in the Federal Register (73 FR 19194) that a request to amend Permit No. 10014 had been submitted by the above-named organization. The requested permit amendment has been issued under the authority of the the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.), and the regulations governing the taking and importing of marine mammals (50 CFR part 216). The permit amendment authorizes the NJDEP to take up to 2,500 common dolphins (Delphinus delphis), 3,200 bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), and 1,280 harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) annually through December 31, 2012. The study area would continue to include U.S. waters offshore of southern New Jersey out to a distance of 20 nautical miles. In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), an environmental assessment was prepared analyzing the effects of the permitted activities. After a Finding of No Significant Impact, the determination was made that it was not necessary to prepare an environmental impact statement. Issuance of this permit amendment was based on a finding that it is consistent with the purposes and policies of the MMPA and ESA. It is believed that the research will further a bona fide scientific purpose and does not involve unnecessary duplication. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Dated: May 30, 2008. P. Michael Payne, Chief, Permits, Conservation and Education Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. E8–12517 Filed 6–3–08; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–S PO 00000 Frm 00008 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XD74 Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Offshore Exploratory Drilling in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of receipt of application and proposed incidental take authorization; request for comments. AGENCY: SUMMARY: NMFS has received an application from Shell Offshore, Inc. (SOI) for an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to take small numbers of marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to conducting open–water offshore exploratory drilling on Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil lease blocks in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an IHA to SOI to incidentally take, by Level B harassment, small numbers of several species of marine mammals during the open water drilling program in 2008 and 2009. DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than July 7, 2008. ADDRESSES: Written comments on the application should be addressed to Mr. P. Michael Payne, Chief, Permits, Conservation and Education Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East– West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910–3225, or by telephoning the contact listed here. The mailbox address for providing email comments is PR1.XD74@noaa.gov. Comments sent via e–mail, including all attachments, must not exceed a 10–megabyte file size. A copy of the application (containing a list of the references used in this document) and NMFS’ 2007 Environmental Assessment (EA) on this action may be obtained by writing to this address or by telephoning the contact listed here and are also available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ permits/incidental.htm#iha. Documents cited in this document, that are not available through standard public library access methods, may be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours at this address. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kenneth Hollingshead, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 713– E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices Summary of Request 2289 or Brad Smith, NMFS, Alaska Regional Office 907–271–3023. 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 a proposed authorization is provided to the public for review. An authorization shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s) and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses and 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.’’ Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA established an expedited process by which citizens of the United States can apply for an authorization to incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals by harassment. Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES (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]. Section 101(a)(5)(D) establishes a 45day time limit for NMFS review of an application followed by a 30-day public notice and comment period on any proposed authorizations for the incidental harassment of marine mammals. Within 45 days of the close of the comment period, NMFS must either issue or deny the authorization. VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 Open Water Exploration Drilling On February 24, 2008, SOI submitted to NMFS a revision to its October 19, 2007, IHA application to take small numbers of marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to conducting open–water offshore exploratory drilling on Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil lease blocks in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska for a 1-year period in 2008 and 2009. As issuance of an IHA is limited to one-year, NMFS anticipates that SOI would submit a new IHA application for this activity to carry its program through to the end of the 2009 open–water season. NMFS notes that SOI’s original IHA application(October 19, 2007) was for the incidental taking of marine mammals, by Level B behavioral harassment, while conducting a two– ship drilling program and a geotechnical program. A description of SOI’s original work plan can be found in NMFS’ proposed 2007 IHA application notice by SOI (72 FR 17864, April 10, 2007) and is not repeated here. A copy of the October 19, 2007, IHA application is available upon request and a copy of the revised application is available on line or upon request (see ADDRESSES). In its revised 2008 IHA application, SOI states that in 2008 it would employ only a single drilling unit, the floating, portable marine vessel, called the Kulluk in order to conduct a top–hole drilling program at Sivulluq. SOI acquired this OCS lease site during the MMS Lease Sale (LS) 195 in March 2005. The highest priority exploratory targets for 2008/2009 are located offshore of Pt. Thomson and Flaxman Island. However, given the locations of open water conditions during 2008 and permit/authorization stipulations, SOI may elect to re-prioritize well locations on one, or more of their OCS leases (see Figure 1 in SOI’s IHA application). Reprioritizing of drilling prospects due to ice conditions may cause drilling to occur at other Beaufort Sea OCS leases held by SOI, but only those that have been pre-cleared by MMS. For this activity, therefore, the central Beaufort Sea meets the ‘‘specified geographic region’’ requirement of section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA. The Kulluk will be accompanied by two ice management vessels or arctic class anchor handlers, and possibly an estimated two support vessels. One of the arctic class supply vessels may make periodic re-supply trips from Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, Canada to the rig. The ice management vessels or arctic class anchor handlers which likely will be used are: the M/V PO 00000 Frm 00009 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 31817 Vladimir Ignatjuk, and a vessel as yet to be contracted, but similar to the Vladimir Ignatjuk. If one or more of these specific vessels are not used, then similar vessel(s) will be substituted. The re-supply effort will be undertaken by the M/V Jim Kilabuk, and an additional multipurpose support vessel similar to the Kilabuk. Other vessels in addition to the Kulluk, ice management/ anchor handling vessels, and drilling support vessels may include the arctic-class barge, the Endeavor (or similar vessel), plus an associated tug, and the Norseman II (or similar vessel), which will support the marine mammal monitoring and mitigation program in the Beaufort Sea during the 2008 open water season. Specifications for the Kulluk, and some prospective ice management vessels can be found in Attachment A of SOI’s 2008 IHA application (see ADDRESSES). Helicopter aircraft will also be used during the drilling season, helping with crew change support, provision re-supply and Search-and-Rescue operations. In addition, fixed-wing aircraft will be used for marine mammal surveillance over-flights. The aircraft operations will principally be based in Deadhorse, AK. The Kulluk is 81 meters (m) (266 feet (ft)) in diameter with an 11.5 m (38 ft) draft when drilling. It is moored using 12 anchor wires (3.5 inches diameter), each connected to a 15 or 20–ton anchor. During the non-drilling season (approximately from November, 2007 to June, 2008), the Kulluk overwintered in the Canadian Beaufort Sea. It is attended at its overwinter location by an ice management vessel. Open Water Exploration Drilling– Tophole Sections SOI’s Beaufort Sea open water exploration drilling program includes plans to excavate/drill only the tophole sections for three exploratory well locations. A tophole section typically includes excavation and completion of a mudline cellar (MLC) and drilling and setting of two or three deeper well sections. MLC completions are an essential component of drilling exploration wells in the Arctic Ocean where ice keel gouge might occur. The MLC is a large diameter excavation into which the blow-out preventer and other sub-seabottom wellhead equipment are installed below the depth of possible ice scour. MLCs avoid damage to wellhead equipment possibly caused by the keel of an ice floe excavating into the sea bottom. At times during drilling, the floating drilling rig may need to disconnect from this sub-sea bottom equipment and move away, and this E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1 rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES 31818 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices equipment remains to shut in the well. MLC excavations are typically 20 ft (6.1 m) in diameter and 40 ft (12.2 m) deep. Excavation of a MLC is done by a large diameter bit that is turned by hydraulic motors. SOI plans to excavate MLCs and complete tophole sections at Sivulliq during 2008 (see Figure 1 in SOI’s IHA application). The MLC and the next two or three deeper well sections collectively extend to approximately 3,000 ft (914 m) below the seafloor, and are referred to collectively as the ‘‘tophole’’ section. Topholes are located thousands of feet above any prospective liquid hydrocarbon-bearing strata. As a result, there is no measurable risk of encountering liquid hydrocarbons during the drilling of these topholes. As mentioned, SOI’s priority drilling prospects for the 2008 open water season occur at Sivulliq, located in Camden Bay of the Beaufort Sea. SOI anticipates that the Kulluk will excavate and drill tophole sections for three exploratory wells during the 2008 open water season. For its 2008 tophole section drilling program, SOI will not operate the Kulluk and associated vessels in Camden Bay until after the Kaktovik and Nuiqsut fall bowhead whale subsistence harvests are completed. Anticipated demobilization of the Kulluk from the Alaskan Beaufort Sea will be in November 2008. In total, it is anticipated by SOI that the tophole section drilling program will require approximately 60 days, excluding weather or other operational delays, beginning with mobilization from the Tuktoyaktuk Buoy and ending with return of the Kulluk to the Canadian Beaufort Sea near Tuktoyaktuk. SOI assumes approximately 50 of the 60 days of this program will include drilling, while the remaining days include rig mobilization, rig moves between locations, and rig demobilization. SOI’s plan is for the two ice management vessels to accompany the Kulluk from its overwintering location (in the Canadian Beaufort Sea) to Sivulliq. One of the ice–management vessels will travel north through the Chukchi Sea and east through the Beaufort Sea after July 1, 2008, before arriving in Canadian waters to assist in the Kulluk mobilization. After the 2008 drilling season, in November 2008, SOI expects to demobilize the Kulluk. One or two ice management vessels, along with various support vessels such as the MV Jim Kilabuk, will accompany the Kulluk as it travels east to the Canadian Beaufort Sea (McKinley Bay or Hershel Island). One or more of these ice management vessels may remain with VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 the Kulluk during the winter season if the rig overwinters in the Canadian Beaufort Sea. SOI’s base plan for exit from the Beaufort Sea for ice management vessels which are not overwintered with the Kulluk is to exit the Beaufort Sea westward. However, subject to ice conditions alternate exit routes may be considered. Open Water Geotechnical Program The open water geotechnical program is expected to begin in July, 2008. SOI plans to bore up to 20 boreholes, each up to 500 ft (152.4 m) in depth, to obtain geotechnical data for feasibility analyses of shallow sub-sea sediments. The boreholes will be completed to depths well above any liquid hydrocarbonbearing strata. Approximately three potential locations will be investigated at Sivulliq, as well as locations along a prospective pipeline access corridor through Mary Sachs Entrance to landfall in the vicinity of Point Thomson (see Figure 2 in SOI’s IHA application). The open water geotechnical program will use borehole excavating equipment mounted on the geotech vessel to advance boreholes through a moonpool located approximately at mid-ship of the geotechnical vessel. The geotech vessel also will have an electronic cone penetrometer (CPT) mounted on it. If used, the CPT unit will collect in-situ soil/sediment sub-sea samples to approximately 150 ft (152.4 m) below the mudline. Shallow sub-sea bottom sampling for geotechnical analyses at the Sivulliq Prospect and along the access corridor will use a seabed frame to either push a sample tube or a CPT test into the seafloor. Other bottom sediment sampling proposed includes piston coring to a maximum depth of 10 ft (3 m) sub-sea bottom, and box coring to a maximum depth of 1–ft sub-sea bottom. SOI plans to complete the geotechnical program prior to the fall bowhead whale subsistence harvests of the communities of Kaktovik and Nuiqsut. Including operational delays, it is anticipated that geotechnical bore– hole drilling, CPT sampling, piston and box coring sampling may be completed in approximately 50 days of work. SOI states that it will not operate the geotechnical program in Camden Bay during the Kaktovik and Nuiqsut fall bowhead whale subsistence harvests. If SOI is unable to complete the planned geotechnical program before the onset of fall whaling for Kaktovik and Nuiqsut, SOI proposes to return to Sivulliq, and/ or the prospective pipeline corridor location after the conclusion of the harvest to complete the program. PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Marine Mammals A total of three cetacean species (bowhead, gray, and beluga whales), three species of pinnipeds (ringed, spotted, and bearded seal), and one marine carnivore (polar bear) are known to occur in or near the proposed drilling areas in the U.S. Beaufort Sea. Other extra–limital species that occasionally occur in very small numbers in this portion of the U.S. Beaufort Sea include the harbor porpoise and killer whale. However, because of their rarity in this area, they are not expected to be exposed to, or affected by, any activities associated with the drilling, and are, therefore, not discussed further. The polar bear is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and is not discussed further in this document. A separate application for a Letter of Authorization (LOA) has been submitted to the USFWS by SOI. The species and numbers of marine mammals likely to be found within this portion of the Beaufort Sea are listed in Table 4–1 in SOI’s IHA application. A description of the biology and distribution of the marine mammal species under NMFS’ jurisdiction can be found in several documents, including SOI’s IHA applications, MMS’ 2006 Final Programmatic EA for Arctic seismic activities, the NMFS/MMS Draft Programmatic EIS for Arctic Seismic in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and several other documents (e.g., MMS’ Final EA for Lease Sales 195 and 202) Information on those marine mammal species under NMFS jurisdiction can be found also in the NMFS Stock Assessment Reports. The 2006 Alaska Stock Assessment Report is available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/ region.htm. Please refer to these documents for information on these potentially affected marine mammal species. Potential Effects of Offshore Drilling Activities on Marine Mammals Disturbance by drilling sounds is the principal means of taking by this activity. Drilling vessels, support vessels including ice management vessels, and aircraft may provide a potential second source of noise. The physical presence of vessels and aircraft could also lead to non–acoustic effects on marine mammals involving visual or other cues. As outlined in previous NMFS documents, the effects of noise on marine mammals are highly variable, and can generally be categorized as follows (based on Richardson et al., 1995): (1) The noise may be too weak to be heard at the location of the animal (i.e., E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1 rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices lower than the prevailing ambient noise level, the hearing threshold of the animal at relevant frequencies, or both); (2) The noise may be audible but not strong enough to elicit any overt behavioral response; (3) The noise may elicit reactions of variable conspicuousness and variable relevance to the well being of the marine mammal; these can range from temporary alert responses to active avoidance reactions such as vacating an area at least until the noise event ceases; (4) Upon repeated exposure, a marine mammal may exhibit diminishing responsiveness (habituation), or disturbance effects may persist; the latter is most likely with sounds that are highly variable in characteristics, infrequent and unpredictable in occurrence, and associated with situations that a marine mammal perceives as a threat; (5) Any anthropogenic noise that is strong enough to be heard has the potential to reduce (mask) the ability of a marine mammal to hear natural sounds at similar frequencies, including calls from conspecifics, and underwater environmental sounds such as surf noise; (6) If mammals remain in an area because it is important for feeding, breeding or some other biologically important purpose even though there is chronic exposure to noise, it is possible that there could be noise–induced physiological stress; this might in turn have negative effects on the well–being or reproduction of the animals involved; and (7) Very strong sounds have the potential to cause temporary or permanent reduction in hearing sensitivity. In terrestrial mammals, and presumably marine mammals, received sound levels must far exceed the animal’s hearing threshold for there to be any temporary threshold shift (TTS) in its hearing ability. For transient sounds, the sound level necessary to cause TTS is inversely related to the duration of the sound. Received sound levels must be even higher for there to be risk of permanent hearing impairment (called permanent threshold shift or PTS). In addition, intense acoustic or explosive events may cause trauma to tissues associated with organs vital for hearing, sound production, respiration and other functions. This trauma may include minor to severe hemorrhage. The only anticipated impacts to marine mammals are associated with noise propagation from tophole section drilling activities and associated support vessels, the geotechnical program and from related aircraft VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 activities, including during marine mammal monitoring activities. Impacts would consist of possible temporary and short term displacement of seals and whales from ensonified zones produced by such noise sources. NMFS and SOI believe that any impacts on the whale and seal populations of the Beaufort Sea activity area are likely to be short term and transitory arising from the temporary displacement of individuals or small groups from locations they may be occupying at the time they are exposed to drilling sounds at a received level of 120 dB or greater (due to the nature of drilling and related vessel noises). In the case of bowhead whales that displacement might well take the form of a deflection of the swim paths of migrating bowheads away from (seaward of) received noise levels at significant distances from the noise source. While this deflection may not be biologically significant (as the bowheads remain within the general migration corridor), it can be significant for subsistence purposes (as will be discussed later). Potential Impact of the Activity on the Species or Stocks of Marine Mammals SOI states that the only anticipated impacts to marine mammals associated with drilling activities would be behavioral reactions to noise propagation from the drilling units and associated support vessels. NMFS notes however, that in addition to these sources of anthropogenic sounds, additional disturbance to marine mammals may result from aircraft overflights and the resulting visual disturbance by the drilling vessels themselves. SOI and NMFS believe, however, that the impacts would be temporary and result in only short term displacement of seals and whales from ensonified zones produced by such noise sources. Any impacts on the whale and seal populations of the Beaufort Sea activity area are likely to be short term and transitory arising from the temporary displacement of individuals or small groups from locations they may occupy at the times they are exposed to drilling sounds at the 160–190 db (or lower) received levels. As noted, it is highly unlikely that animals will be exposed to sounds of such intensity and duration as to physically damage their auditory mechanisms. In the case of bowhead whales that displacement might well take the form of a deflection of the swim paths of migrating bowheads away from (seaward of) received noise levels. NMFS notes that, to date, studies have not been conducted to test the hypothesis that after deflection PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 31819 bowheads return to the swim paths they were following prior to deflection at relatively short distances after their exposure to the received sounds. However, there is no evidence (and little likelihood) that bowheads exposed to noise resulting from oil drilling and support activities will incur an injury to their auditory mechanisms. Additionally, while there is no conclusive evidence that exposure to sounds exceeding 160 db have displaced bowheads from feeding activity (Richardson and Thomson, 2002), there is information that intermittent sounds (e.g., oil drilling and vessel propulsion sounds) may cause a deflection in the migratory path of whales (Malme et al., 1983, 1984), but possibly not when the acoustic source is not in the direct migratory path (Tyack and Clark, 1998). Finally, there is no indication that seals are more than temporarily displaced from ensonified zones and no evidence that seals have experienced physical damage to their auditory mechanisms even within ensonified zones. As a result, the only type of incidental taking requested by SOI is that of taking by harassment due to the resultant noise from the oil drilling activity. The only sources of project created noise for the tophole section drilling will be those noises from the Kulluk and its support vessels, while noise from the geotechnical program will be solely from the geotech vessel. A sound source verification test will be performed on this vessel early in the season. Although the bulk of the activity will be centered in the area of tophole section drilling or geotechnical activities, potential exposures, or impacts to marine mammals also will occur as the drilling vessel, and ice management vessels, and/or geotechnical vessel mobilize to and from Camden Bay for the respective programs. These impacts were assessed previously in this document. SOI notes in its IHA application that historical noise propagation studies were performed on the Kulluk (Hall et al., 1994) in the Kuvlum prospect drill sites (approximately 12 mi (19.3 km) east of SOI’s Sivulliq prospect) that SOI is proposing to drill during 2008 and 2009. Acoustic recording devices were established at 10 m (39 ft) and 20 m (66 ft) depths below water surface at varying distances from the Kulluk and decibel levels were recorded during drilling operations. There were large differences between sound propagation between the different depths. At 10–m (39–ft) water depth, the 120–dB threshold had a 0.7– km (0.43–mi) radius around the Kulluk. At a depth of 20 m (66 ft) below water E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1 31820 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES surface, the 120–dB threshold had a radius of 8.5 km (5.3 mi). There is no obvious explanation for the large differences in propagation at the different levels, but possible explanations include the presence of an acoustic layer due to melting ice during the sound studies and/or sound being channeled into the lower depths due to the seafloor topography. However, SOI plans for new sound propagation studies to be performed on the Kulluk, ice management, and geotechnical vessel, once these vessels are on locations for tophole section drilling or geotechnical activities in the Beaufort Sea. The results of these sound source verification tests will be used to establish monitoring, safety and exclusion zones for SOI’s drilling and support vessels. VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 Numbers of Marine Mammals Expected to Be Exposed to Noise from Drilling, Geotech and Vessel Movement Activities Using the marine mammal density estimates explained and presented in SOI’s IHA application (Table 6–1 for tophole drilling for bowhead and beluga whales, Table 6–2 for tophole drilling for other cetaceans and seals, Table 6– 6 for the Kulluk transit to and from Camden Bay, and Table 6–8 for SOI’s geotechnical program), SOI provided estimates of the numbers of potential marine mammal sound exposures in Tables 6–3 and 6–4 for tophole drilling, Table 6–7 for the Kulluk transit to Camden Bay and Table 6–9 for the geotechnical program. Tables 1 (tophole drilling), 2 (transit), and 3 (geotechnical) in this document provide SOI’s estimate of the number of exposures the affected stocks of marine mammals will receive PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 from each component of SOI’s planned tophole drilling and geotechnical programs in 2008. It should be noted that these tables have been modified from those in SOI’s 2008 IHA application that SOI provided to members of the public. These revisions were made to eliminate duplicate counting and to differentiate between non–authorized taking while in Canadian waters (see below). However, neither NMFS nor SOI believe that harbor porpoise or the narwhal will be affected by SOI’s drilling program, SOI’s estimated exposures to sounds from its drilling program are provided here. For detailed information on how SOI arrived at these estimates for noise exposures, please see SOI’s 2008 IHA application (see ADDRESSES). Next we provide a summary of the anticipated exposure levels. E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1 VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4725 E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1 31821 EN04JN08.000</GPH> rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices 31822 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices Summary – Tophole Drilling The proposed tophole section drilling activities in the Beaufort Sea will involve one drilling vessel that will introduce continuous sounds into the ocean while it is active and possibly two ice-management vessels that would introduce non-continuous sounds if they must break ice. Other routine vessel operations are conventionally assumed not to affect marine mammals sufficiently to constitute ‘‘taking’’. rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES Cetaceans Effects on cetaceans are generally expected to be restricted to avoidance of a limited area around the drilling operation and short-term changes in behavior, falling within the MMPA definition of ‘‘Level B harassment’’. The estimated numbers of cetaceans potentially exposed to sound levels sufficient to cause significant biological disturbances are relatively low percentages of the population sizes in the Bering–Chukchi–Beaufort seas, as described below. Based on the 120–dB criterion for intermittent noise from Malme et al. (1984), the best (average) estimates of the numbers of individual cetaceans exposed to sounds ≥120 dB re 1 microPa (rms) represent varying proportions of the populations of each species in the Beaufort Sea and adjacent waters. While SOI estimates approximately 4315 bowheads may be exposed to received levels of greater VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 than or equal to 120 dB and 160 dB and that is approximately 32 percent of the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort population of about 13,326 (assuming 3.4 percent annual population growth from the 2001 estimate of 10,545 animals (Zeh and Punt, 2005)), SOI and NMFS estimate that, due to bowheads avoiding the area around tophole drilling activities only 36 individuals will be exposed to sounds ≥160 dB which equals <1 percent of the population. A few beluga whales may be exposed to sounds produced by the drilling activities, and the numbers potentially affected are small relative to the population sizes. The best estimate of the number of belugas that might be exposed to ≥120 dB (11) represents <1 percent of their Beaufort Sea population (39,258). No cetacean species, other than the bowheads, are expected to be exposed to levels ≥160 dB. Narwhals are extremely rare in the U.S. Beaufort Sea and none are expected to be encountered during the 2008 drilling activity. Pinnipeds A few pinniped species are likely to be encountered in the drilling activity area, but the ringed seal is by far the most abundant marine mammal that will be encountered. The best (average) estimates of the numbers of individuals exposed to sounds at received levels ≥120 dB re 1 microPa (rms) during the drilling activities are as follows: ringed seals (647), bearded seals (33), and PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 spotted seals (6), (representing <1 percent of their respective Beaufort Sea populations). Pinnipeds are unlikely to react to intermittent (steady) sounds until they are at much higher sound pressure levels than 120 dB re 1 microPa, so it is probable that only a small percentage of those would actually be disturbed. Based on density calculations provided in SOI’s IHA application, no pinnipeds are estimated to be exposed to sounds ≥160 dB. Summary – Geotechnical Program As mentioned, the proposed geotechnical program activities in the Beaufort Sea will involve one geotech vessel, that will introduce intermittent/ continuous sounds into the ocean while it is active. Other routine vessel operations are conventionally assumed not to affect marine mammals sufficiently to constitute rising to a level requiring an authorization under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA (provided they are not conducting ice management activities or towing barges or drilling equipment). Cetaceans Effects on cetaceans are generally expected to be restricted to avoidance of a limited area around the geotechnical activities and short-term changes in behavior, falling within the MMPA definition of ‘‘Level B harassment’’. Furthermore, the estimated numbers of animals potentially exposed to sound levels sufficient to cause significant E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1 EN04JN08.001</GPH> BILLING CODE 3510–22–C Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices biological disturbances are relatively low percentages of the population sizes in the Bering–Chukchi–Beaufort seas, as described next. Based on the 120–dB criterion for intermittent/continuous noise effects, the best (average) estimates of the numbers of individual cetaceans exposed represent varying proportions of the populations of each species in the Beaufort Sea and adjacent waters. For this activity, SOI estimates that approximately 425 bowheads will be exposed to sound pressure levels of 120 dB or greater. This level is approximately 3.1 percent of the BeringChukchi-Beaufort population of 13,326 animals. However, due principally to diverting away from noise from the drilling activity, SOI estimates that only 3 individuals are estimated to be exposed to sounds ≥ 160 dB equaling < 1 percent of the population. These animals may be feeding or engaging in non–migratory behavior and therefore are unlikely to be affected by seismic sounds ≤ 160 dB. A few belugas may be exposed to sounds produced by the geotechnical activities; therefore, the numbers potentially affected are small relative to the population sizes. As mentioned previously, narwhals are extremely rare in the U.S. Beaufort Sea and none are expected to be encountered during the geotechnical work. The best estimate of the number of belugas that might be exposed to ≥ 120 dB (10) represents < 1 percent of their population. No species, other than the bowhead whale, are expected to be exposed to levels ≥ 160 dB. rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES Pinnipeds A few pinnipeds are likely to be encountered in the geotechnical activities area, but the ringed seal is by far the most abundant marine mammal that will be encountered. The best (average) estimates of the numbers of individuals exposed to sounds at received levels ≥ 120 dB re 1 microPa (rms) during the geotechnical activities are as follows: ringed seals (604), bearded seals (31), and spotted seals (6), (representing < 1 percent of their respective Beaufort Sea populations). SOI notes that pinnipeds are unlikely to react to steady sounds until they are much stronger than 120 dB re 1 microPa, so it is probable that only a small percentage of those would actually be disturbed. Based on density calculations provided in SOI’s IHA application, no pinnipeds are estimated to be exposed to sounds > 160 dB. VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 Summary – Towing the Kulluk A vessel towing the Kulluk through the Canadian Beaufort Sea from Tuktoyaktuk to the US-Canadian border would travel about 358 km (222 mi). Transit from the US-Canadian border to the Sivulliq prospect in western Camden Bay would be about 170 km (106 mi) in length for a total transit length of approximately 528 km (328mi). Although SOI has estimated potential exposure levels for both sections of the transit, because the taking of marine mammals inside Canadian territorial waters cannot be authorized under the MMPA, NMFS will authorize only those takings (by harassment) estimated to result within U.S. waters. Sounds produced by a vessel towing the Kulluk have not been measured. As a surrogate, measurements of sounds produced by the Gilavar in Camden Bay while it towed 32 airguns and four hydrophone streamers were used as estimates of the ≥ 160 dB and ≥120 dB distances. The estimated ≥160 dB distance from the Gilavar measurements is 10 m (3.3 ft) and the ≥ 120 dB distance is 6.3 km (3.9 mi). Using these distances and the estimated trackline distance above the area of water potentially ensonified to ≥160 dB would be approximately 11 km2 and to ≥ 120 dB would be approximately 6653 km2. Average and maximum estimates of bowhead whale densities along the transit route were estimated from aerial survey data collected during the month of September near Kaktovik reported in Richardson and Thompson (eds. 2002, Table 6–6). Densities of belugas used in this analysis are the same as shown in the ‘‘ice margin’’ column of Table 6–1 as these densities are also reasonable estimates of beluga density in the waters through which this transit will likely occur. All other species densities are the same as those presented in the ‘‘nearshore’’ (0–200 m water depth) column in Table 6–2 in SOI’s 2008 IHA application. Cetaceans Effects on cetaceans are generally expected to be restricted to avoidance of a limited area around the towing vessel activities due to the noise. These shortterm changes in behavior fall within the MMPA definition of ‘‘Level B harassment’’. Furthermore, the estimated numbers of animals potentially exposed to sound levels sufficient to cause disturbance are relatively low percentages of the population sizes in the Bering– Chukchi–Beaufort seas, as described next. PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 31823 Based on the 120–dB criterion for intermittent/continuous noise effects caused by ship propulsion noise, the best (average) estimates of the numbers of individual cetaceans exposed represent varying proportions of the populations of each species in the Beaufort Sea. For this activity, SOI estimates that approximately 196 bowheads (63 in U.S., 133 in Canada) will be exposed to sound pressure levels of 120 dB or greater. This level is less than 1 percent of the BCB population of the BCB population of 13,326 animals. Also, due principally to diverting away from noise from the drilling activity, SOI estimates that no bowheads individuals will be exposed to sounds ≥ 160 dB. Some belugas may be exposed to sounds produced by the Kulluk towing activities; (total 208 (66 in U.S.; 141 in Canada). However, the number of potentially affected belugas isare small relative to their population size. The best estimate of the number of belugas that might be exposed to ≥ 120 dB represents <1 percent of their population. As mentioned previously, narwhals are extremely rare in the U.S. Beaufort Sea and none are expected to be encountered during the towing operation. Due to the time of the year that towing will take place, and the small zone of influence by towing operatins, no cetacean species are expected to be exposed to levels ≥160 dB. Pinnipeds Pinnipeds are likely to be encountered while towing the Kulluk from Tuktoyaktuk to Sivulluq with the ringed seal by far the most abundant marine mammal that will be encountered. The best (average) estimates of the numbers of individuals exposed to sounds at received levels ≥120 dB re 1 microPa (rms) during the towing activities are as follows: ringed seals (755 in U.S.; 1605 in Canada), bearded seals (39 in U.S.; 82 in Canada), and spotted seals (8 in U.S.; 17 in Canada). SOI notes that pinnipeds are unlikely to react to steady sounds, such as those produced by a vessel towing another vessel, until the sound levels are significantly higher than 120 dB re 1 microPa, so it is probable that only a small percentage of those would actually be disturbed. A total of 4 ringed seals potentially could be exposed to sounds >160 dB. Potential Impact On Habitat SOI states that the proposed tophole drilling and related activities will not result in any permanent impact on habitats used by marine mammals, or to E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1 31824 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES their prey sources. Any effects would be temporary and of short duration at any one location. The effects of the planned drilling activities are expected to be negligible. It is estimated that only a small portion of the animals utilizing the areas of the proposed activities would be temporarily displaced from that habitat. During the period of SOI’s geotech activities, most marine mammals would be dispersed throughout the Beaufort Sea area. The peak of the bowhead whale migration through the Beaufort Sea typically occurs in September and October, and SOI will discuss its efforts to reduce potential impacts during this time with the affected whaling communities. Starting in late-August, bowheads may travel in proximity to the drilling activity and some might be displaced seaward by the planned activities. The numbers of cetaceans and pinnipeds subject to displacement are small in relation to abundance estimates for the affected mammal stocks. In addition, SOI states that feeding does not appear to be an important activity by bowheads migrating through the eastern and central part of the Alaskan Beaufort Sea in most years. In the absence of important feeding areas, the potential diversion of a small number of bowheads is not expected to have any significant or long-term consequences for individual bowheads or their population. Bowheads, gray, or beluga whales are not expected to be excluded from any significant habitat. The proposed activities are not expected to have any habitat-related effects that would produce long-term affects to marine mammals or their habitat due to the limited extent of the acquisition areas and timing of the activities. Potential Effects of Drilling Sounds and Related Activities on Subsistence Needs SOI notes that there could be an adverse impact on the Inupiat fall bowhead subsistence hunt if whales were deflected seaward (further from shore) in the traditional hunting areas north of Pt. Thomson in Camden Bay. The impact could be that whaling crews would have to travel greater distances to intercept westward migrating whales thereby creating a safety hazard for whaling crews and/or limiting chances of successfully striking and landing bowheads. For 2008, the geotechnical program is planned to occur before subsistence whaling begins, while the tophole section drilling will not occur until after the bowhead whaling season has concluded. This potential impact on the bowhead subsistence hunt is proposed by SOI to VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 be mitigated through the application of mitigation procedures described later in this document and implemented by a Conflict Avoidance Agreement (CAA) between SOI, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) and the whaling captains’ associations of Kaktovik, Nuiqsut and Barrow. SOI believes that the proposed mitigation measures will minimize adverse effects on whales and whalers. (see Mitigation later in this document). Regardless of whether a 2008 CAA is successfully negotiated, SOI states that it is committed to the mitigation measures described later in this document. As a result, NMFS believes that there should not be an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the marine mammal species, particularly bowhead whales, for subsistence uses. Proposed Mitigation for Subsistence Hunting NMFS regulations (50 CFR 216.104(b)(13)) require IHA applicants for activities that take place in or near a traditional Arctic subsistence hunting area and/or may affect the availability of a species or stock of marine mammal for Arctic subsistence uses to submit a Plan of Cooperation (POC) or similar information that identifies what measures have been taken and/or will be taken to minimize any adverse effects on the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses. First, NMFS regulations require a statement that the IHA applicant has notified and provided the affected subsistence community with a draft POC. A summary of SOI’s POC meetings during 2006 and 2007 is provided in SOI’s 2008 IHA application. For the 2008 proposed open water activities, SOI met with the AEWC and the whaling captains associations of Nuiqsut, Kaktovik, Wainwright, Pt. Hope, and Barrow between February 7– 11, 2008 to address concerns from affected bowhead whale subsistence users regarding SOI’s 2007 open water program and planned upcoming 2008 open water activities. If successfully negotiated and signed, a CAA would be a component of SOI’s 2008–2009 POC and is anticipated it will cover the proposed Beaufort Sea exploratory drilling program. In addition, in 2008 SOI held several community POC meetings to discuss SOI’s 2008 open water programs in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Also, in order to assess the concerns of other affected subsistence users, SOI also met with the marine mammal commissioners of the AEWC, Alaska Beluga Whale Committee, Ice Seal Committee, and the Nanuuq Commission during a two-day meeting PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 December 12–13, 2007 in Anchorage to discuss 2007/2008 programs. Additional meetings have been held during the spring, 2008. SOI plans to hold community meetings in Barrow, Nuiqsut, Kaktovik, Wainwright, Point Hope, and Point Lay, regarding its Beaufort and Chukchi Seas 2008 open water programs. During these meetings, SOI states that it will focus on lessons learned from the 2007 open water program and, present the proposed 2008 program activities, and describe SOI’s adaptive management approach toward conducting its activities. SOI states that it will continue to hold meetings with the above mentioned marine mammal commissions that are focused on ice seals, walrus, polar bears, and beluga. NMFS regulations also require affected IHA applicants to provide a description of what measures the applicant has taken and/or will take to ensure that proposed activities will not interfere with subsistence whaling or sealing. For SOI’s open water exploration drilling of the tophole sections at Sivulluq, SOI states that the Kulluk and all support vessels will operate in accordance with the provisions of the POC. The POC is developed to mitigate effects of SOI’s proposed program(s) where activities would take place in or near a traditional Arctic subsistence hunting area and/or may affect the availability of a species or stock of marine mammal for Arctic subsistence uses. SOI has consulted in the past and will consult this year with affected Beaufort (and Chukchi) Sea communities and marine mammal associations for the development and improvement of the POC. For the drilling program, SOI’s POC with Beaufort Sea villages will address vessel transit, drilling and associated activities. It is the intention of SOI to negotiate a CAA with the AEWC, and whaling captain’s associations of affected Beaufort and Chukchi Sea villages, as a component of the POC. If a CAA is negotiated with AEWC, then the provisions of the CAA will be included in the POC. In the absence of a signed CAA, SOI states that it is committed to implementing the mitigation measures described later in this section of the notice and will implement these measures, which are intended to minimize any adverse effects on the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses. In addition, NMFS notes that a POC will specify times and areas to avoid in order to minimize possible conflicts with traditional subsistence hunts by North Slope villages for transit and drilling operations. For its 2008 tophole E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1 rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices section drilling program, SOI has stated that it will not operate the Kulluk and associated vessels in Camden Bay until after the Kaktovik and Nuiqsut fall bowhead whale subsistence harvests are completed. Appropriate operational restrictions applicable for future openwater drilling activities (2009 and beyond) will be developed in consultation with affected communities via the POC. The geotechnical vessel’s activities will also operate in accordance with the provisions of a POC. SOI plans to complete the geotechnical program prior to the fall bowhead whale subsistence harvests of the communities of Kaktovik and Nuiqsut. SOI states that it will not operate the geotechnical program in Camden Bay during the Kaktovik and Nuiqsut fall bowhead whale subsistence harvests. If SOI is unable to complete the planned geotechnical program before the onset of fall whaling for Kaktovik and Nuiqsut, SOI plans to return to Sivulliq, and/or prospective pipeline corridor after the conclusion of the harvest to complete the program. SOI states that the Kulluk, the geotech vessel and all support vessels and aircraft will operate in accordance with the conditions of a CAA currently being negotiated with the AEWC. However, regardless of whether a CAA is signed, SOI states that it will implement the following key mitigation measure concepts that will be included in SOI’s POC: 1. If not completed prior to the bowhead whale subsistence hunt, the geotechnical program will cease during the Kaktovik and Nuiqsut (Cross Island) fall bowhead whale subsistence harvests. The geotechnical vessel will be relocated out of Camden Bay during this time. 2. Communications system between operator’s vessels and the whaling hunting crews. This includes the 24 hours per day operation of communication centers in Kaktovik (Call center) and Deadhorse (Com center) areas, which are staffed by Inupiat operators, and the installation of radio equipment in the whaler’s boats. The Deadhorse Com center and Kaktovik Call center also provides a method for other subsistence hunters, such as seal hunters, who can communicate with the industry vessels. 3. Provision for marine mammal observers (MMOs) aboard all project vessels (see below). 4. Conflict resolution procedures. 5. Plan all vessel and aircraft routes to minimize the impact on subsistence hunts. Aircraft will not operate below 1000 ft. (309 m) unless approaching, landing or taking off, or unless engaged VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 31825 Proposed Marine Mammal Mitigation and Monitoring Measures SOI has proposed implementing a marine mammal mitigation and monitoring program (4MP) that will consist of monitoring and mitigation during the exploratory drilling activities. In conjunction with monitoring during SOI’s seismic and shallow–hazard surveys (subject to an upcoming notice and review), monitoring will provide information on the numbers of marine mammals potentially affected by these activities and permit real time mitigation to prevent injury of marine mammals by industrial sounds or activities. These goals will be accomplished by conducting vessel-, aerial–, and acoustic–monitoring programs to characterize the sounds produced by the drilling and to document the potential reactions of marine mammals in the area to those sounds and activities. Acoustic modeling will be used to predict the sound levels produced by the shallow hazards and drilling equipment in the U.S. Beaufort Sea. For the drilling program, acoustic measurements will also be made to establish zones of influence (ZOIs) around the activities that will be monitored by observers. Aerial monitoring and reconnaissance of marine mammals and recordings of ambient sound levels, vocalizations of marine mammals, and received levels should they be detectable using bottomfounded acoustic recorders along the Beaufort Sea coast will be used to interpret the reactions of marine mammals exposed to the activities. The components of SOI’s monitoring program is briefly described next. Additional information can be found in SOI’s IHA application. route if vessels associated with SOI’s drilling program transit through the Chukchi Sea on the way to the Sivulliq prospect in the eastern Alaskan Beaufort Sea. The plan relies principally on strategies of avoidance, minimization, monitoring, and communication to reduce exposure of marine mammals to sound levels and visual stimuli that could be capable of disturbance, displacement, or significant alteration of behavior. Avoidance of areas where exposure of marine mammals to disturbance will be accomplished in the Chukchi Sea by positioning the transit route > 50 mi (80 km) offshore and, to the extent possible, in open water. By remaining > 50 mi (80 km) offshore, the transit route remains away from areas of coastal concentration of marine mammals, including seals, walrus, and beluga whales. By remaining in open water, to the greatest extent possible, noise levels will be kept to a minimum. In open water, the transit will be relatively slow and steady and will not require engine revving or other operations that increase cavitation. In the event that the presence of ice in the transit route makes the maintenance of a > 50 mi offshore buffer in the Chukchi Sea practicable, SOI proposes to reduce this buffer in favor of maintenance of a 0.5 mi (804 m) buffer between the transit route and the ice edge. By staying out of the ice, the vessels will minimize sound emission levels and will remain away from hauled out concentrations of walrus and seals. The transit distance from shore may decrease below the desired 50 mi buffer but SOI notes it will not enter the polynia zone. On-board MMOs will be on duty on all vessels during the transit and will direct vessel transit to remain, where possible, one-half mile or greater from marine mammals (understanding that marine mammals may approach the vessels) to and avoid collisions with marine mammals. During ice transits, MMOs will supplement aerial surveys and assist in the maintenance of buffers and observation of marine mammal concentrations and behaviors. If such observations demonstrate disturbance behavior, buffers will be adjusted as appropriate. Mitigation and Monitoring Measures During Transit of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas A Chukchi Sea vessel transit mitigation plan has been developed to identify transit strategies that will minimize and mitigate possible impacts to marine mammals and subsistence hunting activities in the offshore and adjacent coastal areas along the transit Vessel–based Marine Mammal Monitoring Program The vessel-based operations will be the core of SOI’s 4MP. The 4MP will be designed to ensure that disturbance to marine mammals and subsistence hunts is minimized, that effects on marine mammals are documented, and to collect baseline data on the occurrence and distribution of marine mammals in in providing assistance, or in poor weather low ceiling, or other emergency situation. 6. A ‘‘Good Neighbor Policy’’ that provides for financial compensation in the unlikely event that an oil spill diminishes the availability or usability of subsistence resources such as bowhead or beluga whales, seals, walrus, polar bear, fish or water fowl. 7. Provisions for rendering emergency assistance to subsistence hunting crews. PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1 rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES 31826 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices the study area. Those objectives will be achieved, in part, through the vesselbased monitoring and mitigation program. The 4MP will be implemented by a team of experienced MMOs, including both biologists and Inupiat personnel, approved in advance by NMFS. The MMOs will be stationed aboard the drilling vessel, the geotechnical vessel, and associated support vessels throughout the drilling period. The duties of the MMOs will include watching for and identifying marine mammals; recording their numbers, distances, and reactions to the drilling operations; initiating mitigation measures when appropriate; and reporting the results. Reporting of the results of the vessel-based monitoring program will include the estimation of the number of ‘‘takes.’’ The vessel-based operations of SOI’s 4MP will be required to support the vessel based drilling or geotechnical activities in the central and eastern Alaskan Beaufort Sea (July through October). The dates and operating areas will depend upon ice and weather conditions, along with SOI’s arrangements with agencies and stakeholders. Exploratory drilling activities are expected to occur after whaling during 2008, whereas geotechnical activities are expected to occur prior to whaling during 2008. Vessel-based monitoring for marine mammals will be done throughout the period of drilling operations in compliance with monitoring requirements contained in the IHA issued to SOI, if warranted. The vessel-based work will provide: (1) the basis for real-time mitigation, (2) information needed to estimate the ‘‘take’’ of marine mammals by harassment, (3) data on the occurrence, distribution, and activities of marine mammals in the areas where the drilling program is conducted, (4) information to compare the distances, distributions, behavior, and movements of marine mammals relative to the source vessels at times with and without drilling or ice–management activity, (5) a communication channel to Inupiat whalers and the Whaling Coordination Center, and (6) employment and capacity building for local residents, with one objective being to develop a larger pool of experienced Inupiat MMOs. All MMOs will be provided training through a program approved by NMFS. At least one observer on each vessel will be an Inupiat who will have the additional responsibility of communicating with the Inupiat community and (during the whaling VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 season) directly with Inupiat whalers. Details of the vessel-based marine mammal monitoring program are described in the IHA application. Mitigation and Monitoring Measures During Drilling Activities SOI’s proposed offshore drilling program incorporates both design features and operational procedures for minimizing potential impacts on marine mammals and on subsistence hunts. The design features and operational procedures have been described in the IHA applications and are summarized here. Survey design features to reduce impacts include: (1) timing and locating some drilling support activities to avoid interference with the annual fall bowhead whale hunts from Kaktovik, Nuiqsut (Cross Island), and Barrow; (2) conducting pre-work modeling (and early season field assessments) to establish the appropriate 180 dB and 190 dB safety zones (if necessary), and the 160 and 120 dB behavior radii; and (3) vessel-based (and aerial) monitoring to implement appropriate mitigation (and to assess the effects of project activities on marine mammals). Also, the potential disturbance of marine mammals during drilling operations will be minimized further through the implementation of several ship-based mitigation measures as discussed below. Under current NMFS guidance ‘‘safety radii’’ for marine mammals around acoustic sources are customarily defined as the distances within which received pulse levels are ≥ 180 dB re 1 microPa (rms) for cetaceans and ≥190 dB re 1 microPa (rms) for pinnipeds. These safety criteria are based on an assumption that lower received levels will not injure these animals or impair their hearing abilities, but that higher received levels might have a potential for such effects. Greene (1987) reported SPLs ranging from 130–136 dB (rms) at 0.2 km (656 ft) from the Kulluk during drilling activities (drilling, tripping, and cleaning) in the Arctic. (Higher received levels up to 148 dB (rms) were recorded for supply vessels that were underway and for icebreaking activities.) As a result, SOI believes that the tophole exploratory and geotechnical drilling and the activities of the support vessels are not likely to produce sound levels 180 dB (rms) or greater and thereby have potential to cause temporary hearing loss or permanent hearing damage to any marine mammals. Consequently, standard mitigation as described later in this document for seismic activities including shut down of any drilling activity should not be necessary (unless sound monitoring tests described elsewhere in this document indicate PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 SPLs at or greater than 180 dB). If testing indicates SPLs will reach or exceed 180 dB or 190 dB, then appropriate mitigation measures would be implemented by SOI to avoid potential Level A harassment of cetaceans (at or above 180 dB) or pinnipeds (at or above 190 dB). Mitigation measures may include reducing drilling or ice management noises, whichever is appropriate. Moreover, SOI plans to use MMOs onboard the drill ships and the various support and supply vessels to monitor marine mammals and their responses to industry activities. In addition, an acoustical program and an aerial survey program which are discussed in previous sections will be implemented to determine potential impacts of the drilling program on marine mammals. Marine Mammal Observers MMOs will be required onboard each vessel to ensure that observations can be conducted efficiently and without fatigue. MMOs will be required onboard each vessel to meet the following criteria: (1) availability for monitoring and consultation coverage during periods of drilling operations in daylight; (2) maximum of 4 consecutive hours on watch per MMO; (3) maximum of approx. 12 hours on watch per day per MMO. The observer(s) (MMOs and Inupiat) will watch for marine mammals from the best available vantage point on the operating source vessel, which is usually the bridge or flying bridge. The observer(s) will scan systematically with the naked eye and 7 50 reticle binoculars, supplemented with nightvision equipment when needed (see below). Personnel on the bridge will assist the marine mammal observer(s) in watching for pinnipeds and whales. The observer(s) will give particular attention to the areas around the vessel. When a mammal sighting is made, the following information about the sighting will be recorded: (1) Species, group size, age/ size/sex categories (if determinable), behavior when first sighted and after initial sighting, heading (if consistent), bearing and distance from drilling vessel, apparent reaction to drilling noise (e.g., none, avoidance, approach, paralleling, etc.), closest point of approach, and behavioral pace; (2) time, location, heading, speed, and activity of the vessel (if underway at the time), sea state, ice cover, visibility, and sun glare; (3) the positions of other vessel(s) in the vicinity of the source vessel. This information will be recorded by the MMOs at times of whale and seal sightings. The ship’s position and its heading, and speed (if the vessel is underway), E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES activity state (e.g., drilling, non– drilling), and water temperature, water depth, sea state, ice cover, visibility, and sun glare will also be recorded at the start and end of each observation watch, every 30 minutes during a watch, and whenever there is a change in any of those variables. Distances to nearby marine mammals will be estimated with binoculars containing a reticle to measure the vertical angle of the line of sight to the animal relative to the horizon. Observers may use a laser rangefinder to test and improve their abilities for visually estimating distances to objects in the water. However, previous experience showed that this Class 1 eye-safe device was not able to measure distances to seals more than about 70 m (230 ft) away. However, it was very useful in improving the distance estimation abilities of the observers at distances up to about 600 m (1968 ft)-the maximum range at which the device could measure distances to highly reflective objects such as other vessels. Experience indicates that humans observing objects of more-or-less known size via a standard observation protocol, in this case from a standard height above water, quickly become able to estimate distances within about plus or minus 20 percent when given immediate feedback about actual distances during training. In addition to routine MMO duties, Inupiat observers will be encouraged to record comments about their observations into the ‘‘comment’’ field in the database. Copies of these records will be available to the Inupiat observers for reference if they wish to prepare a statement about their observations. If prepared, this statement would be included in the 90-day and final reports documenting the monitoring work. Night-vision equipment (‘‘Generation 3’’ binocular image intensifiers, or equivalent units) will be available for use when needed during nighttime observations. However, past experience with night-vision devices (NVDs) in the Beaufort Sea and elsewhere indicates that NVDs are not nearly as effective as visual observation during daylight hours (e.g., Harris et al., 1997, 1998; Moulton and Lawson, 2002). However, for drilling and geotechnical operations, the safety zone is stationary and is sufficiently small to allow effective monitoring of the safety zones. Proposed Additional Mitigation Measures In addition to the standard mitigation and monitoring measures discussed in SOI’s IHA application, NMFS is also proposing to require in the IHA, additional mitigation measures to VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 protect feeding and migrating bowhead whales in the U.S. Beaufort Sea. These include (1) not conducting drilling operations during the bowhead migration and subsistence hunting periods and vessel and aerial monitoring requirements to look for feeding gray and bowhead whale concentrations and migrating bowhead whale cow/calf pairs. If changes in behavior are observed during operations, drilling operations must cease until the whales have migrated past the drilling location. Underwater Acoustical Monitoring Program As described in more detail in SOI’s IHA application, sounds produced during the drilling and geotechnical operations and vessels supporting the offshore drilling program will be measured in the field during typical operations. These measurements will be used to establish potential disturbance radii for respective marine mammal groups within the project area. The goals and objectives of SOI’s planned work are: (1) to measure the distances from the various sound sources to broadband received levels of 170, 160, and 120 dB rms re 1 microPa (sounds are not expected to reach 180 dB from the drilling and geotechnical vessels), and (2) to measure the radiated vessel sounds vs. distance for the source and support vessels. The measurements will be made at the beginning of the specific activity (i.e., shallow hazards survey activity and drilling activity) and all safety and disturbance radii will be reported within 72 hours of completing the measurements. For the drilling operation, a subsequent mid-season assessment is proposed to be conducted to measure sound propagation from combined drilling operations during ‘‘normal’’ operations. For drilling activities, the primary radii of concern will be the 160–dB disturbance radii (although measurements will be made to the 180–dB isopleth). In addition to reporting the radii of specific regulatory concern, distances to other sound pressure level isopleths down to 120 dB (if measurable) will be reported in increments of 10 dB. The distance at which received sound levels become ≥120 dB for continuous sound (which occurs during drilling activities as opposed to impulsive sound which occurs during seismic activities) is sometimes considered to be a zone of potential disturbance for some cetacean species by NMFS. SOI plans to use vessel-based MMOs to monitor the 160– dB disturbance radii around the drilling vessels and, if necessary, to implement mitigation measures for the 190– and PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 31827 180–dB safety radii. An aerial survey program will be implemented to monitor both the drilling and seismic activities in the Beaufort Sea. SOI plans to use a qualified acoustical contractor to measure the sound propagation of the vessel-based drilling rig during periods of drilling activity, and the drill ship, geotech vessel and support vessels while they are underway at the start of the field season. Noise from ships with ice-breaking capabilities will be measured during periods of ice-breaking activity. These measurements will be used to determine the sound levels produced by various equipment and to establish any safety and disturbance radii if necessary. Bottom-founded hydrophones similar to those used in 2006 and 2007 for measurements of vessel-based seismic sound propagation will likely be used to determine the levels of sound propagation from the drill rigs and associated vessels. An initial sound source analysis will be supplied to NMFS and the drilling operators within 72 hours of completion of the measurements, if possible. NMFS proposed to clarify in the IHA that the sound source analysis will be provided to NMFS within 24 hours of submission to SOI. A detailed report on the methodology and results of these tests will be provided to NMFS as part of the 90-day report following completion of the drilling program. Aerial Survey Monitoring Program SOI proposes to conduct an aerial survey program in support of its dual seismic exploration and drilling programs in the Beaufort Sea during summer and fall of 2008. SOI notes that the objectives of the aerial survey will be to: (1) advise operating vessels as to the presence of marine mammals in the general area of operation; (2) collect and report data on the distribution, numbers, movement and behavior of marine mammals near the drilling operations with special emphasis on migrating bowhead whales; (3) support regulatory reporting and Inupiat communications related to the estimation of impacts of drilling operations on marine mammals; (4) monitor the accessibility of bowhead whales to Inupiat hunters and (5) to document how far west of drilling activities bowhead whales travel before they return to their normal migration paths, and if possible, to document how far east of drilling operations the deflection begins. The same aerial survey design will be implemented by SOI during the summer (one week prior to beginning of offshore operations until August 20) and fall E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1 rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES 31828 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices (August 20 - five days after cessation of operations, or until agreement is reached that the bowhead migration has ended) periods, but during the early summer, the surveys will be flown twice a week and during the late summer and fall, flights will be conducted daily. During the early summer, few cetaceans are expected to be encountered in the nearshore Alaskan Beaufort Sea where the drilling operation will be conducted (see particularly Moore et al. (1989b), Moore and Clarke (1989, 1991), Moore (1992), Moore et al. (1989a, 1993, 2000), Moore and Reeves (1993), Moore and DeMaster (1997), Miller et al. (1998, 1999, 2002) and those that are encountered are expected to be either along the coast (gray whales: (Maher (1960), Rugh and Fraker (1981), Miller et al. (1999), Treacy (2000)) or among the pack ice (bowheads: Moore et al. (1989b), and belugas: Moore et al. (1993), Clarke et al. (1993)) north of the area where drilling activities are to be conducted. During some years a few gray whales are found feeding in shallow nearshore waters from Barrow to Kaktovik but most sightings are in the western part of that area. During the late summer and fall, the bowhead whale is the primary species of concern, but belugas and gray whales are also present. Bowheads and belugas migrate through the Alaskan Beaufort Sea from summering areas in the central and eastern Beaufort Sea and Amundsen Gulf to their wintering areas in the Bering Sea (Clarke et al., 1993; Moore et al., 1993; Miller et al., 2002). Small numbers of bowheads are sighted in the eastern Alaskan Beaufort Sea starting mid-August and near Barrow starting late August, but the main migration does not start until early September. The bowhead migration tends to be through nearshore and shelf waters, although in some years small numbers of whales are seen near the coast and/ or far offshore. Bowheads frequently interrupt their migration to feed (Ljungblad et al., 1986a; Lowry, 1993; ¨ Landino et al. 1994; Wursig et al. 2002; Lowry et al. 2004) and their stops vary in duration from a few hours to a few weeks (Koski et al., 2002). Opportunistic feeding areas are in coastal and shelf waters near and east of Kaktovik. The aerial survey procedures will be generally consistent with those during earlier industry studies (Davis et al., 1985; Johnson et al., 1986; Evans et al., 1987; Brueggeman et al., 1992; Miller et al., 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002; Patterson, 2007). This will facilitate comparison and pooling of data where appropriate. However, the specific survey grids will be tailored to SOI’s operations and the VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 time of year. During the 2008 field season SOI will coordinate and cooperate with the aerial surveys conducted by MMS and any other groups conducting aerial surveys in the same region. SOI notes that the timing, duration, and location of SOI’s drilling operations are subject to change as a result of unpredictable weather and ice issues, as well as regulatory and stakeholder concerns. As a result, SOI’s recommended approach is flexible and able to adapt at short notice to changes in the operations. For information on SOI’s summer and fall aerial survey design, please refer to SOI’s 2008 IHA application. Acoustic Monitoring Program Determining the potential effects of drilling noise on migration bowhead whales will be complicated by the presence of ice-management and other support vessels that may contribute to underwater sound levels. Miles et al. (1987) reported higher sound pressure levels (SPLs) from ice-breakers underway in open water than from vessel-based drilling activity. SPLs from dredging activity, a working tug, and an icebreaker pushing ice were also greater than those produced by vessel-based drilling activity. However, sounds produced during drilling activity are relatively continuous while ice management vessel sounds are considered to be intermittent, and there is some concern that continuous and intermittent sounds may result in behavioral reactions (at least in mysticete whales) at a greater distance than impulse sound (i.e., seismic) of the same intensity. Acoustic localization methods provide a possible alternative (or supplement) to aerial surveys for addressing these questions. As compared with aerial surveys, acoustic methods have the advantage of providing a vastly larger number of whale detections, and can operate day or night, independent of visibility, and to some degree independent of ice conditions and sea state-all of which prevent or impair aerial surveys. However, acoustic methods depend on the animals to call, and to some extent one must assume that calling rate is unaffected by exposure to industrial noise. Bowheads do call frequently in the fall, but there is some evidence that their calling rate may be reduced upon exposure to industrial sounds, complicating interpretation. Also, acoustic methods require development and deployment of instruments that are stationary (preferably mounted on the bottom) to record and localize the whale PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 calls. According to SOI, acoustic methods would likely be more effective for studying impacts related to a stationary sound source, such as a drilling rig that is operating within a relatively localized area, than for a moving sound source such as that produced by a seismic source vessel. SOI’s proposed study is described next. Acoustic Study of Bowhead Deflections SOI plans to deploy an acoustic net array program in the Beaufort Sea in 2008, similar to that which was done in 2007, but enhanced by the use of directional acoustic systems that permit localization of bowhead whale and other marine mammal vocalizations. The purpose of the array will be to further understand, define, and document sound characteristics and propagation resulting from vessel-based drilling operations that may have the potential to cause deflections of bowhead whales from their migratory pathway. Of particular interest will be the east-west extent of deflection (i.e. how far east of a sound source do bowheads begin to deflect and how far to the west beyond the sound source does deflection persist). Of additional interest will be the extent of offshore (or towards shore) deflection that occurs. Greeneridge Sciences plans to conduct the whale migration monitoring using the passive acoustics techniques developed and used successfully since 2001 for monitoring the migration past BP’s Northstar production island northwest of Prudhoe Bay. Those techniques involve using directional autonomous seafloor acoustic recorders (DASARs) to measure the arrival angles of bowhead calls at known locations, then triangulating to locate the calling whale. Thousands, in some years tens of thousands, of whale calls have been located each year since 2001. Greeneridge Sciences developed and tested a new model of DASAR under SOI’s sponsorship in 2006. The new design proved to be operational during field deployment in 2006 and is proposed for use in the 2008 migration monitoring. This acoustic localization method will provide important information for addressing the whale deflection question. As compared with aerial surveys, acoustic methods have the advantage of providing a vastly larger number of whale detections, and can operate day or night, independent of visibility, and to some degree independent of ice conditions and sea state-all of which prevent or impair aerial surveys. However, acoustic methods depend on the animals to call, and to some extent assume that calling E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices rate is unaffected by exposure to industrial noise. Bowheads do call frequently in fall, but there is some evidence that their calling rate may be reduced upon exposure to industrial sounds, complicating interpretation. The combined use of acoustic and aerial survey methods will provide a suite of information that should be very useful in assessing the potential effects of drilling operations on migrating bowhead whales. The objective of this study is to provide information on bowhead migration paths along the Alaskan coast, particularly with respect to industrial operations and whether and to what extent there is deflection due to industrial sound levels. Using passive acoustics with directional autonomous recorders, the locations of calling whales will be observed for a six- to tenweek continuous monitoring period at five coastal sites (subject to favorable ice and weather conditions). Essential to achieving this objective is the continuous measurement of sound levels near the drillship. For more information on SOI’s proposed acoustic program, please see its IHA application. Reporting Daily Reporting In its IHA application, SOI proposes to collect, via the aerial flights, unanalyzed bowhead sighting and flightline data which will be exchanged between MMS and SOI on a daily basis during the field season. Each team will also submit its sighting information to NMFS in Anchorage each day. After the SOI and MMS data files have been reviewed and finalized, they will be shared in digital form. rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES 90-day Technical Report The results of the 2008 SOI vesselbased monitoring, including estimates of take by harassment, will be presented in the ‘‘90 day and technical report(s)’’ that are usually required by NMFS under IHAs. SOI proposes that these technical report(s) will include: (1) summaries of monitoring effort: total hours, total distances, and distribution through study period, sea state, and other factors affecting visibility and detectability of marine mammals; (2) analyses of the effects of various factors influencing detectability of marine mammals: sea state, number of observers, and fog/glare; (3) species composition, occurrence, and distribution of marine mammal sightings including date, water depth, numbers, age/size/gender categories, group sizes, and ice cover; (4) sighting rates of marine mammals versus VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 operational state (and other variables that could affect detectability); (5) initial sighting distances versus operational state; (6) closest point of approach versus seismic state; (7) observed behaviors and types of movements versus operational state; (8) numbers of sightings/individuals seen versus operational state; (9) distribution around the drilling vessel and support vessels versus operational state; and (10) estimates of take based on (a) numbers of marine mammals directly seen within the relevant zones of influence (160 dB, 180 dB, 190 dB (if SPLs of that level are measured)), and (b) numbers of marine mammals estimated to be there based on sighting density during daytime hours with acceptable sightability conditions. In addition, the 90-day report will contain an analysis of all acoustic data in order to address the following primary data analysis questions: (a) to determine when, where, and what species of animals are acoustically detected on each DASAR, (b) to analyze data as a whole to determine offshore distributions as a function of time, (c) to quantify spatial and temporal variability in the ambient noise, and (d) to measure received levels of seismic survey events and drill ship activities. The detection data will be used to develop spatial and temporal animal detection distributions. Statistical analyses will be used to test for changes in animal detections and distributions as a function of different variables (e.g., time of day, time of season, environmental conditions, ambient noise, vessel type, operation conditions). Comprehensive Report Following the 2008 open-water season a comprehensive report describing the proposed acoustic, vessel-based, and aerial monitoring programs will be prepared. The comprehensive report will describe the methods, results, conclusions and limitations of each of the individual data sets in detail. The report will also integrate (to the extent possible) the studies into a broad based assessment of industry activities and their impacts on marine mammals in the Beaufort Sea during 2008. The report will form the basis for future monitoring efforts and will establish long term data sets to help evaluate changes in the Beaufort Sea ecosystem. The report will also incorporate studies being conducted in the Chukchi Sea and will attempt to provide a regional synthesis of available data on industry activity in offshore areas of northern Alaska that may influence marine mammal density, distribution and behavior. This report will consider data from many different sources including two PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 31829 relatively different types of aerial surveys; several types of acoustic systems for data collection (net array, vertical array, DASARB, and OBH systems), and vessel based observations. Collection of comparable data across the wide array of programs will help with the synthesis of information. However, interpretation of broad patterns in data from a single year is inherently limited. Much of the 2008 data will be used to assess the efficacy of the various data collection methods and to establish protocols that will provide a basis for integration of the data sets over a period of years. Endangered Species Act (ESA) NMFS issued a Biological Opinion on June 16, 2006, regarding the effects of this action on ESA-listed species and critical habitat under the jurisdiction of NMFS. The Opinion concluded that this action is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat. Due to the presence of fin and humpback whales in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in 2007, the MMS has begun additional consultation on the proposed seismic survey activities in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas during 2008. NMFS will also consult on the issuance of the IHA under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA to SOI for this activity. Consultation will be concluded prior to NMFS making a determination on the issuance of an IHA. A copy of the 2006 Biological Opinion is available at: http:// www.mms.gov/alaska/ref/BioOpinions/ ARBOIII–2.pdf. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) In July, 2004, the MMS prepared an EA for LS–195 to determine whether or not new information indicates that the proposed lease sale would cause new significant impacts; ones that were not addressed in the Final EIS for Beaufort Sea Planning Area Oil and Gas Lease Sales 186, 195, and 202 (MMS, 2003a) (the Multiple-Sale EIS). This EA incorporated all of the relevant material in the Multiple-Sale EIS by reference. It also reexamined the potential environmental effects of the Proposed Action and alternatives as a result of new information on potential impacts and issues that were not available at the time MMS completed the Multiple-Sale EIS in February 2003. Because the Beaufort Sea sale proposals and projected activities are very similar, if not almost identical for each lease sale, MMS prepared a single EIS for all three Beaufort Sea sales that was first analyzed in the 5-year OCS Leasing E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1 rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES 31830 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices Program for 2002–2007 (MMS, 2002a). The Multiple-Sale approach focuses the NEPA/EIS process on the identification of differences among the proposed sales and on new information and issues. Subsequent to releasing the EA on LS–195, in August, 2006, MMS released a third NEPA document for the proposed Beaufort Sea Planning Area OCS LS–202. That EA further updated the information contained in the two previously mentioned NEPA documents. However, SOI’s proposed 2008 exploratory drilling project is on leases obtained from MMS as a result of the Beaufort Sea LS–195, not LS 202. However, the EA for LS 202 updates the environmental information found in the EA for LS 195. The MMS made a FONSI for LS–195 on July 2, 2004, based on information contained within its EA, that implementation of the subject action is not a major Federal action having significant effects on the environment within the meaning of NEPA. The MMS determined, therefore, that a new EIS would not be prepared. In accordance with NOAA Administrative Order 216–6 (Environmental Review Procedures for Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, May 20, 1999), NMFS has reviewed the information contained in these three MMS NEPA documents and determined that while these NEPA documents accurately and completely describe the environmental setting for NMFS’ proposed action (the 20087 SOI exploratory drilling project) and other identified alternatives, the potential impacts on marine mammals, endangered species, and other marine life that could be impacted by the preferred alternative and the other alternatives has not been fully described and analyzed, especially as it relates to NMFS’ issuance of authorizations under the MMPA, and the potential impacts due to NMFS’ IHA issuance. To update these documents, NMFS completed its own EA in 2007 which incorporates by reference relevant information contained in the Multiple-Sale EIS, the Beaufort Sea Lease Sale 195 EA, and the Beaufort Sea Lease Sale 202 EA. On October 24, 2007, NMFS also issued a FONSI to support theon its issuance of an IHA to SOI for taking marine mammals incidental to its offshore drilling project. As a result of the EA and FONSI, NMFS has determined that the preparation of an EIS wais not necessary and none was prepared. A copy of NMFS’ EA and FONSI for this action are available electronically (see ADDRESSES). VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 For 2008, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the proposed action discussed in this document is not substantially different from the 2007 action. A final decision on whether the action differs in a manner requiring NMFS to amend its 2007 EA and issue a new FONSI will be made by NMFS prior to making a final decision on the proposed issuance of an IHA to SOI for this activity. Preliminary Conclusions Based on the information provided in SOI’s application and other referenced documentation, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the impact of SOI conducting its exploratory, tophole and geotechnical drilling programs in the U.S. Beaufort Sea in 2008 will have no more than a negligible impact on a small number of marine mammals. NMFS has preliminarily determined that the short– term impact of conducting exploratory drilling by the two drilling vessels (Kulluk and the geotechnical vessel) and by supporting vessels, including ice management vessels in the U.S. Beaufort Sea may result, at worst, in a temporary modification in behavior by certain species of marine mammals, including vacating the immediate vicinity around the two activity areas due to noise resulting from drilling and ship movements. While behavioral and avoidance reactions may be made by these species in response to the resultant noise, this behavioral change is expected to have a negligible impact on the animals. While the number of potential incidental harassment takes will depend on the distribution and abundance of marine mammals (which vary annually due to variable ice conditions and other factors) in the area of drilling operations, the number of potential harassment takings is estimated to be small as indicated in Tables 1, 2 and 3 in this document. In addition, no take by death and/or serious injury is anticipated or would be authorized; there is almost a zero potential for an oil spill to result from the drilling activity as it will not penetrate into oil bearing strata, and the potential for temporary or permanent hearing impairment is low due to the low SPLs associated with drilling activities. Also, harassment takings are likely to be minimized through the incorporation of the monitoring and mitigation measures mentioned in this document and required by the authorization. No rookeries, mating grounds, areas of concentrated feeding, or other areas of special significance for marine mammals occur within or near the PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 planned area of operations during the season of operations. As SOI notes in its IHA application, there could be an adverse impact on the Inupiat bowhead subsistence hunt if the whales were deflected seaward (further from shore) in the traditional hunting areas north of Pt. Thomson in Camden Bay. NMFS believes that this could result in whaling crews being forced to travel greater distances to intercept westward migrating whales thereby creating a significant safety hazard for whaling crews (with a potential loss of life), limiting chances of successfully striking and landing bowheads, and/or not landing bowheads quickly before decomposition and spoilage occurs. Prior to issuing an IHA for activities that take place in Arctic waters, NMFS must ensure that the taking by the activity will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on subsistence uses of marine mammals. In 50 CFR 216.103, NMFS has defined an ‘‘unmitigable adverse impact’’ to mean: an impact resulting from the specified activity: (1) That is likely to reduce the availability of the species to a level insufficient for a harvest to meet subsistence needs by: (i) Causing the marine mammals to abandon or avoid hunting areas; (ii) Directly displacing subsistence users; or (iii) Placing physical barriers between the marine mammals and the subsistence hunters; and (2) That cannot be sufficiently mitigated by other measures to increase the availability of marine mammals to allow subsistence needs to be met. SOI states that the potential impact on subsistence users of marine mammals will be reduced mitigated throughby the application of mitigation procedures described in its application and implemented by a CAA between the SOI, the AEWC and the whaling captains’ associations of Kaktovik, Nuiqsut and Barrow. Mitigation measures implemented by NMFS under Letters of Authorization or IHAs previously included: (1) warm shutdown of drilling operations during the subsistence hunt, and (2) moving the drilling vessels either further offshore or behind the barrier islands. For example, in 2007, measures taken to ensure that there would not be an unmitigable adverse impact on subsistence uses of marine mammals included: (1) limiting the activity to a single exploratory drilling vessel, (2)cease drilling operations beginning August 25,2007, and (3) to relocate all equipment and related vessels offsite no later than August 27, 2007. Therefore, presuming that effective mitigation and monitoring measures will be contained in SOI’s 2008 IHA and will be fully implemented by SOI, NMFS has preliminarily determined E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 108 / Wednesday, June 4, 2008 / Notices that SOI’s proposed drilling and geotechnical activity would result in the harassment of small numbers of marine mammals; would have no more than a negligible impact on the affected marine mammal stocks; and, subject to development of mitigation measures during discussions with interested parties, would not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of species or stocks for subsistence uses. In addition, implementation of these effective mitigation measures ensures that the taking, by Level B harassment of marine mammals by SOI’s offshore drilling activity will have the least practicable effect on marine mammal individuals and populations. As a result, NMFS proposes to issue an IHA to SOI for conducting an offshore drilling program in the U.S. Beaufort Sea in 2008, provided the previously mentioned monitoring and reporting requirements are incorporated. Dated: May 29, 2008. Helen W. Golde Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. E8–12513 Filed 6–3–08; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–S CORPORATION FOR NATIONAL AND COMMUNITY SERVICE Information Collection; Submission for OMB Review, Comment Request Corporation for National and Community Service. ACTION: Notice. rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with NOTICES AGENCY: 16:46 Jun 03, 2008 Jkt 214001 The OMB is particularly interested in comments which: • Evaluate whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the Corporation, including whether the information will have practical utility; • Evaluate the accuracy of the agency’s estimate of the burden of the proposed collection of information, including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used; • Propose ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and • Propose ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on those who are to respond, including through the use of appropriate automated, electronic, mechanical, or other technological collection techniques or other forms of information technology, e.g., permitting electronic submissions of responses. Average Time per Response: 8 hours. Estimated Total Burden Hours: 432 hours. Total Burden Cost (capital/startup): None. Total Burden Cost (operating/ maintenance): None. Dated: May 19, 2008. Kristin McSwain, Director, AmeriCorps State and National. [FR Doc. E8–12486 Filed 6–3–08; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 6050–$$–P SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Comments SUMMARY: The Corporation for National and Community Service (hereinafter the ‘‘Corporation’’) has submitted a public information collection request (ICR) entitled Annual Reporting Questions for Program Development and Training grants, and Disability Inclusion grants to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and approval in accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, Public Law 104– 13 (44 U.S.C. Chapter 35). Copies of this ICR, with applicable supporting documentation, may be obtained by calling the Corporation for National and Community Service, Ms. Amy Borgstrom at (202) 606–6930. Individuals who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TTY–TDD) may call (202) 565–2799 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday. ADDRESSES: Comments may be submitted, identified by the title of the information collection activity, to the Office of Information and Regulatory VerDate Aug<31>2005 Affairs, Attn: Ms. Katherine Astrich, OMB Desk Officer for the Corporation for National and Community Service, by any of the following two methods within 30 days from the date of publication in this Federal Register: (1) By fax to: (202) 395–6974, Attention: Ms. Katherine Astrich, OMB Desk Officer for the Corporation for National and Community Service; and (2) Electronically by e-mail to: Katherine_T._Astrich@omb.eop.gov. 31831 A 60-day public comment Notice was published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, March 4, 2008. This comment period ended May 5, 2008. No public comments were received from this Notice. Description: The Corporation is seeking approval of the attached Annual Reporting Questions for Program Development and Training grants, and Disability Inclusion grants. Applicants will respond to the questions included in this ICR in order to report on their use of federal funds and progress against their annual plan. Type of Review: New Information Collection. Agency: Corporation for National and Community Service. Title: Annual Reporting Questions for Program Development and Training grants, and Disability Inclusion grants. OMB Number: None. Agency Number: None. Affected Public: State service commissions. Total Respondents: 54. Frequency: Annually. PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 CORPORATION FOR NATIONAL AND COMMUNITY SERVICE Information Collection; Submission for OMB Review, Comment Request Corporation for National and Community Service. ACTION: Notice. AGENCY: SUMMARY: The Corporation for National and Community Service (hereinafter the ‘‘Corporation’’) has submitted a public information collection request (ICR) entitled CNCS Application Instructions and Reporting Questions to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and approval in accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, Pub. L. 104–13 (44 U.S.C. Chapter 35). Copies of this ICR, with applicable supporting documentation, may be obtained by calling the Corporation for National and Community Service, Ms. Amy Borgstrom at (202) 606–6930. Individuals who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TTY–TDD) may call (202) 565–2799 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday. ADDRESSES: Comments may be submitted, identified by the title of the information collection activity, to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Attn: Ms. Katherine Astrich, OMB Desk Officer for the Corporation for National and Community Service, by any of the following two methods within 30 days from the date of publication in this Federal Register: (1) By fax to: (202) 395–6974, Attention: Ms. Katherine Astrich, OMB Desk Officer for the Corporation for National and Community Service; and (2) Electronically by e-mail to: Katherine_T._Astrich@omb.eop.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The OMB is particularly interested in comments which: • Evaluate whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the Corporation, including whether the information will have practical utility; E:\FR\FM\04JNN1.SGM 04JNN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 73, Number 108 (Wednesday, June 4, 2008)]
[Notices]
[Pages 31816-31831]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E8-12513]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XD74


Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Offshore Exploratory Drilling in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska

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

ACTION: Notice of receipt of application and proposed incidental take 
authorization; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS has received an application from Shell Offshore, Inc. 
(SOI) for an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to take small 
numbers of marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to conducting 
open-water offshore exploratory drilling on Outer Continental Shelf 
(OCS) oil lease blocks in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska. Under the Marine 
Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its 
proposal to issue an IHA to SOI to incidentally take, by Level B 
harassment, small numbers of several species of marine mammals during 
the open water drilling program in 2008 and 2009.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than July 7, 
2008.

ADDRESSES: Written comments on the application should be addressed to 
Mr. P. Michael Payne, Chief, Permits, Conservation and Education 
Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3225, or by 
telephoning the contact listed here. The mailbox address for providing 
email comments is PR1.XD74@noaa.gov. Comments sent via e-mail, 
including all attachments, must not exceed a 10-megabyte file size. A 
copy of the application (containing a list of the references used in 
this document) and NMFS' 2007 Environmental Assessment (EA) on this 
action may be obtained by writing to this address or by telephoning the 
contact listed here and are also available at: http://
www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm#iha.
    Documents cited in this document, that are not available through 
standard public library access methods, may be viewed, by appointment, 
during regular business hours at this address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kenneth Hollingshead, Office of 
Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 713-

[[Page 31817]]

2289 or Brad Smith, NMFS, Alaska Regional Office 907-271-3023.

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 a proposed authorization is 
provided to the public for review.
    An authorization shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking 
will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s) and will not 
have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species 
or stock(s) for subsistence uses and 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.''
    Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA established an expedited process 
by which citizens of the United States can apply for an authorization 
to incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals by harassment. 
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].
    Section 101(a)(5)(D) establishes a 45-day time limit for NMFS 
review of an application followed by a 30-day public notice and comment 
period on any proposed authorizations for the incidental harassment of 
marine mammals. Within 45 days of the close of the comment period, NMFS 
must either issue or deny the authorization.

Summary of Request

Open Water Exploration Drilling

    On February 24, 2008, SOI submitted to NMFS a revision to its 
October 19, 2007, IHA application to take small numbers of marine 
mammals, by harassment, incidental to conducting open-water offshore 
exploratory drilling on Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil lease blocks 
in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska for a 1-year period in 2008 and 2009. As 
issuance of an IHA is limited to one-year, NMFS anticipates that SOI 
would submit a new IHA application for this activity to carry its 
program through to the end of the 2009 open-water season.
    NMFS notes that SOI's original IHA application(October 19, 2007) 
was for the incidental taking of marine mammals, by Level B behavioral 
harassment, while conducting a two-ship drilling program and a 
geotechnical program. A description of SOI's original work plan can be 
found in NMFS' proposed 2007 IHA application notice by SOI (72 FR 
17864, April 10, 2007) and is not repeated here. A copy of the October 
19, 2007, IHA application is available upon request and a copy of the 
revised application is available on line or upon request (see 
ADDRESSES).
    In its revised 2008 IHA application, SOI states that in 2008 it 
would employ only a single drilling unit, the floating, portable marine 
vessel, called the Kulluk in order to conduct a top-hole drilling 
program at Sivulluq. SOI acquired this OCS lease site during the MMS 
Lease Sale (LS) 195 in March 2005. The highest priority exploratory 
targets for 2008/2009 are located offshore of Pt. Thomson and Flaxman 
Island. However, given the locations of open water conditions during 
2008 and permit/authorization stipulations, SOI may elect to re-
prioritize well locations on one, or more of their OCS leases (see 
Figure 1 in SOI's IHA application). Re-prioritizing of drilling 
prospects due to ice conditions may cause drilling to occur at other 
Beaufort Sea OCS leases held by SOI, but only those that have been pre-
cleared by MMS. For this activity, therefore, the central Beaufort Sea 
meets the ``specified geographic region'' requirement of section 
101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA.
    The Kulluk will be accompanied by two ice management vessels or 
arctic class anchor handlers, and possibly an estimated two support 
vessels. One of the arctic class supply vessels may make periodic re-
supply trips from Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, Canada to the 
rig. The ice management vessels or arctic class anchor handlers which 
likely will be used are: the M/V Vladimir Ignatjuk, and a vessel as yet 
to be contracted, but similar to the Vladimir Ignatjuk. If one or more 
of these specific vessels are not used, then similar vessel(s) will be 
substituted. The re-supply effort will be undertaken by the M/V Jim 
Kilabuk, and an additional multipurpose support vessel similar to the 
Kilabuk.
    Other vessels in addition to the Kulluk, ice management/ anchor 
handling vessels, and drilling support vessels may include the arctic-
class barge, the Endeavor (or similar vessel), plus an associated tug, 
and the Norseman II (or similar vessel), which will support the marine 
mammal monitoring and mitigation program in the Beaufort Sea during the 
2008 open water season. Specifications for the Kulluk, and some 
prospective ice management vessels can be found in Attachment A of 
SOI's 2008 IHA application (see ADDRESSES). Helicopter aircraft will 
also be used during the drilling season, helping with crew change 
support, provision re-supply and Search-and-Rescue operations. In 
addition, fixed-wing aircraft will be used for marine mammal 
surveillance over-flights. The aircraft operations will principally be 
based in Deadhorse, AK.
    The Kulluk is 81 meters (m) (266 feet (ft)) in diameter with an 
11.5 m (38 ft) draft when drilling. It is moored using 12 anchor wires 
(3.5 inches diameter), each connected to a 15 or 20-ton anchor. During 
the non-drilling season (approximately from November, 2007 to June, 
2008), the Kulluk overwintered in the Canadian Beaufort Sea. It is 
attended at its overwinter location by an ice management vessel.

Open Water Exploration Drilling-Tophole Sections

    SOI's Beaufort Sea open water exploration drilling program includes 
plans to excavate/drill only the tophole sections for three exploratory 
well locations. A tophole section typically includes excavation and 
completion of a mudline cellar (MLC) and drilling and setting of two or 
three deeper well sections. MLC completions are an essential component 
of drilling exploration wells in the Arctic Ocean where ice keel gouge 
might occur. The MLC is a large diameter excavation into which the 
blow-out preventer and other sub-seabottom wellhead equipment are 
installed below the depth of possible ice scour. MLCs avoid damage to 
wellhead equipment possibly caused by the keel of an ice floe 
excavating into the sea bottom. At times during drilling, the floating 
drilling rig may need to disconnect from this sub-sea bottom equipment 
and move away, and this

[[Page 31818]]

equipment remains to shut in the well. MLC excavations are typically 20 
ft (6.1 m) in diameter and 40 ft (12.2 m) deep. Excavation of a MLC is 
done by a large diameter bit that is turned by hydraulic motors. SOI 
plans to excavate MLCs and complete tophole sections at Sivulliq during 
2008 (see Figure 1 in SOI's IHA application).
    The MLC and the next two or three deeper well sections collectively 
extend to approximately 3,000 ft (914 m) below the seafloor, and are 
referred to collectively as the ``tophole'' section. Topholes are 
located thousands of feet above any prospective liquid hydrocarbon-
bearing strata. As a result, there is no measurable risk of 
encountering liquid hydrocarbons during the drilling of these topholes.
    As mentioned, SOI's priority drilling prospects for the 2008 open 
water season occur at Sivulliq, located in Camden Bay of the Beaufort 
Sea. SOI anticipates that the Kulluk will excavate and drill tophole 
sections for three exploratory wells during the 2008 open water season. 
For its 2008 tophole section drilling program, SOI will not operate the 
Kulluk and associated vessels in Camden Bay until after the Kaktovik 
and Nuiqsut fall bowhead whale subsistence harvests are completed. 
Anticipated demobilization of the Kulluk from the Alaskan Beaufort Sea 
will be in November 2008. In total, it is anticipated by SOI that the 
tophole section drilling program will require approximately 60 days, 
excluding weather or other operational delays, beginning with 
mobilization from the Tuktoyaktuk Buoy and ending with return of the 
Kulluk to the Canadian Beaufort Sea near Tuktoyaktuk. SOI assumes 
approximately 50 of the 60 days of this program will include drilling, 
while the remaining days include rig mobilization, rig moves between 
locations, and rig demobilization.
    SOI's plan is for the two ice management vessels to accompany the 
Kulluk from its overwintering location (in the Canadian Beaufort Sea) 
to Sivulliq. One of the ice-management vessels will travel north 
through the Chukchi Sea and east through the Beaufort Sea after July 1, 
2008, before arriving in Canadian waters to assist in the Kulluk 
mobilization. After the 2008 drilling season, in November 2008, SOI 
expects to demobilize the Kulluk. One or two ice management vessels, 
along with various support vessels such as the MV Jim Kilabuk, will 
accompany the Kulluk as it travels east to the Canadian Beaufort Sea 
(McKinley Bay or Hershel Island). One or more of these ice management 
vessels may remain with the Kulluk during the winter season if the rig 
overwinters in the Canadian Beaufort Sea. SOI's base plan for exit from 
the Beaufort Sea for ice management vessels which are not overwintered 
with the Kulluk is to exit the Beaufort Sea westward. However, subject 
to ice conditions alternate exit routes may be considered.

Open Water Geotechnical Program

    The open water geotechnical program is expected to begin in July, 
2008. SOI plans to bore up to 20 boreholes, each up to 500 ft (152.4 m) 
in depth, to obtain geotechnical data for feasibility analyses of 
shallow sub-sea sediments. The boreholes will be completed to depths 
well above any liquid hydrocarbon-bearing strata. Approximately three 
potential locations will be investigated at Sivulliq, as well as 
locations along a prospective pipeline access corridor through Mary 
Sachs Entrance to landfall in the vicinity of Point Thomson (see Figure 
2 in SOI's IHA application). The open water geotechnical program will 
use borehole excavating equipment mounted on the geotech vessel to 
advance boreholes through a moonpool located approximately at mid-ship 
of the geotechnical vessel. The geotech vessel also will have an 
electronic cone penetrometer (CPT) mounted on it. If used, the CPT unit 
will collect in-situ soil/sediment sub-sea samples to approximately 150 
ft (152.4 m) below the mudline.
    Shallow sub-sea bottom sampling for geotechnical analyses at the 
Sivulliq Prospect and along the access corridor will use a seabed frame 
to either push a sample tube or a CPT test into the seafloor. Other 
bottom sediment sampling proposed includes piston coring to a maximum 
depth of 10 ft (3 m) sub-sea bottom, and box coring to a maximum depth 
of 1-ft sub-sea bottom.
    SOI plans to complete the geotechnical program prior to the fall 
bowhead whale subsistence harvests of the communities of Kaktovik and 
Nuiqsut. Including operational delays, it is anticipated that 
geotechnical bore-hole drilling, CPT sampling, piston and box coring 
sampling may be completed in approximately 50 days of work. SOI states 
that it will not operate the geotechnical program in Camden Bay during 
the Kaktovik and Nuiqsut fall bowhead whale subsistence harvests. If 
SOI is unable to complete the planned geotechnical program before the 
onset of fall whaling for Kaktovik and Nuiqsut, SOI proposes to return 
to Sivulliq, and/or the prospective pipeline corridor location after 
the conclusion of the harvest to complete the program.

Marine Mammals

    A total of three cetacean species (bowhead, gray, and beluga 
whales), three species of pinnipeds (ringed, spotted, and bearded 
seal), and one marine carnivore (polar bear) are known to occur in or 
near the proposed drilling areas in the U.S. Beaufort Sea. Other extra-
limital species that occasionally occur in very small numbers in this 
portion of the U.S. Beaufort Sea include the harbor porpoise and killer 
whale. However, because of their rarity in this area, they are not 
expected to be exposed to, or affected by, any activities associated 
with the drilling, and are, therefore, not discussed further. The polar 
bear is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
(USFWS) and is not discussed further in this document. A separate 
application for a Letter of Authorization (LOA) has been submitted to 
the USFWS by SOI.
    The species and numbers of marine mammals likely to be found within 
this portion of the Beaufort Sea are listed in Table 4-1 in SOI's IHA 
application. A description of the biology and distribution of the 
marine mammal species under NMFS' jurisdiction can be found in several 
documents, including SOI's IHA applications, MMS' 2006 Final 
Programmatic EA for Arctic seismic activities, the NMFS/MMS Draft 
Programmatic EIS for Arctic Seismic in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas 
and several other documents (e.g., MMS' Final EA for Lease Sales 195 
and 202) Information on those marine mammal species under NMFS 
jurisdiction can be found also in the NMFS Stock Assessment Reports. 
The 2006 Alaska Stock Assessment Report is available at: http://
www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/region.htm. Please refer to these documents 
for information on these potentially affected marine mammal species.

Potential Effects of Offshore Drilling Activities on Marine Mammals

    Disturbance by drilling sounds is the principal means of taking by 
this activity. Drilling vessels, support vessels including ice 
management vessels, and aircraft may provide a potential second source 
of noise. The physical presence of vessels and aircraft could also lead 
to non-acoustic effects on marine mammals involving visual or other 
cues.
    As outlined in previous NMFS documents, the effects of noise on 
marine mammals are highly variable, and can generally be categorized as 
follows (based on Richardson et al., 1995):
    (1) The noise may be too weak to be heard at the location of the 
animal (i.e.,

[[Page 31819]]

lower than the prevailing ambient noise level, the hearing threshold of 
the animal at relevant frequencies, or both);
    (2) The noise may be audible but not strong enough to elicit any 
overt behavioral response;
    (3) The noise may elicit reactions of variable conspicuousness and 
variable relevance to the well being of the marine mammal; these can 
range from temporary alert responses to active avoidance reactions such 
as vacating an area at least until the noise event ceases;
    (4) Upon repeated exposure, a marine mammal may exhibit diminishing 
responsiveness (habituation), or disturbance effects may persist; the 
latter is most likely with sounds that are highly variable in 
characteristics, infrequent and unpredictable in occurrence, and 
associated with situations that a marine mammal perceives as a threat;
    (5) Any anthropogenic noise that is strong enough to be heard has 
the potential to reduce (mask) the ability of a marine mammal to hear 
natural sounds at similar frequencies, including calls from 
conspecifics, and underwater environmental sounds such as surf noise;
    (6) If mammals remain in an area because it is important for 
feeding, breeding or some other biologically important purpose even 
though there is chronic exposure to noise, it is possible that there 
could be noise-induced physiological stress; this might in turn have 
negative effects on the well-being or reproduction of the animals 
involved; and
    (7) Very strong sounds have the potential to cause temporary or 
permanent reduction in hearing sensitivity. In terrestrial mammals, and 
presumably marine mammals, received sound levels must far exceed the 
animal's hearing threshold for there to be any temporary threshold 
shift (TTS) in its hearing ability. For transient sounds, the sound 
level necessary to cause TTS is inversely related to the duration of 
the sound. Received sound levels must be even higher for there to be 
risk of permanent hearing impairment (called permanent threshold shift 
or PTS). In addition, intense acoustic or explosive events may cause 
trauma to tissues associated with organs vital for hearing, sound 
production, respiration and other functions. This trauma may include 
minor to severe hemorrhage.
    The only anticipated impacts to marine mammals are associated with 
noise propagation from tophole section drilling activities and 
associated support vessels, the geotechnical program and from related 
aircraft activities, including during marine mammal monitoring 
activities. Impacts would consist of possible temporary and short term 
displacement of seals and whales from ensonified zones produced by such 
noise sources. NMFS and SOI believe that any impacts on the whale and 
seal populations of the Beaufort Sea activity area are likely to be 
short term and transitory arising from the temporary displacement of 
individuals or small groups from locations they may be occupying at the 
time they are exposed to drilling sounds at a received level of 120 dB 
or greater (due to the nature of drilling and related vessel noises). 
In the case of bowhead whales that displacement might well take the 
form of a deflection of the swim paths of migrating bowheads away from 
(seaward of) received noise levels at significant distances from the 
noise source. While this deflection may not be biologically significant 
(as the bowheads remain within the general migration corridor), it can 
be significant for subsistence purposes (as will be discussed later).

Potential Impact of the Activity on the Species or Stocks of Marine 
Mammals

    SOI states that the only anticipated impacts to marine mammals 
associated with drilling activities would be behavioral reactions to 
noise propagation from the drilling units and associated support 
vessels. NMFS notes however, that in addition to these sources of 
anthropogenic sounds, additional disturbance to marine mammals may 
result from aircraft overflights and the resulting visual disturbance 
by the drilling vessels themselves. SOI and NMFS believe, however, that 
the impacts would be temporary and result in only short term 
displacement of seals and whales from ensonified zones produced by such 
noise sources. Any impacts on the whale and seal populations of the 
Beaufort Sea activity area are likely to be short term and transitory 
arising from the temporary displacement of individuals or small groups 
from locations they may occupy at the times they are exposed to 
drilling sounds at the 160-190 db (or lower) received levels. As noted, 
it is highly unlikely that animals will be exposed to sounds of such 
intensity and duration as to physically damage their auditory 
mechanisms. In the case of bowhead whales that displacement might well 
take the form of a deflection of the swim paths of migrating bowheads 
away from (seaward of) received noise levels. NMFS notes that, to date, 
studies have not been conducted to test the hypothesis that after 
deflection bowheads return to the swim paths they were following prior 
to deflection at relatively short distances after their exposure to the 
received sounds. However, there is no evidence (and little likelihood) 
that bowheads exposed to noise resulting from oil drilling and support 
activities will incur an injury to their auditory mechanisms. 
Additionally, while there is no conclusive evidence that exposure to 
sounds exceeding 160 db have displaced bowheads from feeding activity 
(Richardson and Thomson, 2002), there is information that intermittent 
sounds (e.g., oil drilling and vessel propulsion sounds) may cause a 
deflection in the migratory path of whales (Malme et al., 1983, 1984), 
but possibly not when the acoustic source is not in the direct 
migratory path (Tyack and Clark, 1998). Finally, there is no indication 
that seals are more than temporarily displaced from ensonified zones 
and no evidence that seals have experienced physical damage to their 
auditory mechanisms even within ensonified zones. As a result, the only 
type of incidental taking requested by SOI is that of taking by 
harassment due to the resultant noise from the oil drilling activity. 
The only sources of project created noise for the tophole section 
drilling will be those noises from the Kulluk and its support vessels, 
while noise from the geotechnical program will be solely from the 
geotech vessel. A sound source verification test will be performed on 
this vessel early in the season. Although the bulk of the activity will 
be centered in the area of tophole section drilling or geotechnical 
activities, potential exposures, or impacts to marine mammals also will 
occur as the drilling vessel, and ice management vessels, and/or 
geotechnical vessel mobilize to and from Camden Bay for the respective 
programs. These impacts were assessed previously in this document.
    SOI notes in its IHA application that historical noise propagation 
studies were performed on the Kulluk (Hall et al., 1994) in the Kuvlum 
prospect drill sites (approximately 12 mi (19.3 km) east of SOI's 
Sivulliq prospect) that SOI is proposing to drill during 2008 and 2009. 
Acoustic recording devices were established at 10 m (39 ft) and 20 m 
(66 ft) depths below water surface at varying distances from the Kulluk 
and decibel levels were recorded during drilling operations. There were 
large differences between sound propagation between the different 
depths. At 10-m (39-ft) water depth, the 120-dB threshold had a 0.7-km 
(0.43-mi) radius around the Kulluk. At a depth of 20 m (66 ft) below 
water

[[Page 31820]]

surface, the 120-dB threshold had a radius of 8.5 km (5.3 mi). There is 
no obvious explanation for the large differences in propagation at the 
different levels, but possible explanations include the presence of an 
acoustic layer due to melting ice during the sound studies and/or sound 
being channeled into the lower depths due to the seafloor topography. 
However, SOI plans for new sound propagation studies to be performed on 
the Kulluk, ice management, and geotechnical vessel, once these vessels 
are on locations for tophole section drilling or geotechnical 
activities in the Beaufort Sea. The results of these sound source 
verification tests will be used to establish monitoring, safety and 
exclusion zones for SOI's drilling and support vessels.

Numbers of Marine Mammals Expected to Be Exposed to Noise from 
Drilling, Geotech and Vessel Movement Activities

    Using the marine mammal density estimates explained and presented 
in SOI's IHA application (Table 6-1 for tophole drilling for bowhead 
and beluga whales, Table 6-2 for tophole drilling for other cetaceans 
and seals, Table 6-6 for the Kulluk transit to and from Camden Bay, and 
Table 6-8 for SOI's geotechnical program), SOI provided estimates of 
the numbers of potential marine mammal sound exposures in Tables 6-3 
and 6-4 for tophole drilling, Table 6-7 for the Kulluk transit to 
Camden Bay and Table 6-9 for the geotechnical program. Tables 1 
(tophole drilling), 2 (transit), and 3 (geotechnical) in this document 
provide SOI's estimate of the number of exposures the affected stocks 
of marine mammals will receive from each component of SOI's planned 
tophole drilling and geotechnical programs in 2008. It should be noted 
that these tables have been modified from those in SOI's 2008 IHA 
application that SOI provided to members of the public. These revisions 
were made to eliminate duplicate counting and to differentiate between 
non-authorized taking while in Canadian waters (see below). However, 
neither NMFS nor SOI believe that harbor porpoise or the narwhal will 
be affected by SOI's drilling program, SOI's estimated exposures to 
sounds from its drilling program are provided here. For detailed 
information on how SOI arrived at these estimates for noise exposures, 
please see SOI's 2008 IHA application (see ADDRESSES). Next we provide 
a summary of the anticipated exposure levels.

[[Page 31821]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TN04JN08.000


[[Page 31822]]


[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TN04JN08.001

BILLING CODE 3510-22-C

Summary - Tophole Drilling

    The proposed tophole section drilling activities in the Beaufort 
Sea will involve one drilling vessel that will introduce continuous 
sounds into the ocean while it is active and possibly two ice-
management vessels that would introduce non-continuous sounds if they 
must break ice. Other routine vessel operations are conventionally 
assumed not to affect marine mammals sufficiently to constitute 
``taking''.
Cetaceans
    Effects on cetaceans are generally expected to be restricted to 
avoidance of a limited area around the drilling operation and short-
term changes in behavior, falling within the MMPA definition of ``Level 
B harassment''. The estimated numbers of cetaceans potentially exposed 
to sound levels sufficient to cause significant biological disturbances 
are relatively low percentages of the population sizes in the Bering-
Chukchi-Beaufort seas, as described below. Based on the 120-dB 
criterion for intermittent noise from Malme et al. (1984), the best 
(average) estimates of the numbers of individual cetaceans exposed to 
sounds [gteqt]120 dB re 1 microPa (rms) represent varying proportions 
of the populations of each species in the Beaufort Sea and adjacent 
waters. While SOI estimates approximately 4315 bowheads may be exposed 
to received levels of greater than or equal to 120 dB and 160 dB and 
that is approximately 32 percent of the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort 
population of about 13,326 (assuming 3.4 percent annual population 
growth from the 2001 estimate of 10,545 animals (Zeh and Punt, 2005)), 
SOI and NMFS estimate that, due to bowheads avoiding the area around 
tophole drilling activities only 36 individuals will be exposed to 
sounds [gteqt]160 dB which equals <1 percent of the population.
    A few beluga whales may be exposed to sounds produced by the 
drilling activities, and the numbers potentially affected are small 
relative to the population sizes. The best estimate of the number of 
belugas that might be exposed to [gteqt]120 dB (11) represents <1 
percent of their Beaufort Sea population (39,258). No cetacean species, 
other than the bowheads, are expected to be exposed to levels 
[gteqt]160 dB. Narwhals are extremely rare in the U.S. Beaufort Sea and 
none are expected to be encountered during the 2008 drilling activity.
Pinnipeds
    A few pinniped species are likely to be encountered in the drilling 
activity area, but the ringed seal is by far the most abundant marine 
mammal that will be encountered. The best (average) estimates of the 
numbers of individuals exposed to sounds at received levels [gteqt]120 
dB re 1 microPa (rms) during the drilling activities are as follows: 
ringed seals (647), bearded seals (33), and spotted seals (6), 
(representing <1 percent of their respective Beaufort Sea populations). 
Pinnipeds are unlikely to react to intermittent (steady) sounds until 
they are at much higher sound pressure levels than 120 dB re 1 microPa, 
so it is probable that only a small percentage of those would actually 
be disturbed. Based on density calculations provided in SOI's IHA 
application, no pinnipeds are estimated to be exposed to sounds 
[gteqt]160 dB.

Summary - Geotechnical Program

    As mentioned, the proposed geotechnical program activities in the 
Beaufort Sea will involve one geotech vessel, that will introduce 
intermittent/continuous sounds into the ocean while it is active. Other 
routine vessel operations are conventionally assumed not to affect 
marine mammals sufficiently to constitute rising to a level requiring 
an authorization under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA (provided they 
are not conducting ice management activities or towing barges or 
drilling equipment).
Cetaceans
    Effects on cetaceans are generally expected to be restricted to 
avoidance of a limited area around the geotechnical activities and 
short-term changes in behavior, falling within the MMPA definition of 
``Level B harassment''. Furthermore, the estimated numbers of animals 
potentially exposed to sound levels sufficient to cause significant

[[Page 31823]]

biological disturbances are relatively low percentages of the 
population sizes in the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort seas, as described 
next.
    Based on the 120-dB criterion for intermittent/continuous noise 
effects, the best (average) estimates of the numbers of individual 
cetaceans exposed represent varying proportions of the populations of 
each species in the Beaufort Sea and adjacent waters. For this 
activity, SOI estimates that approximately 425 bowheads will be exposed 
to sound pressure levels of 120 dB or greater. This level is 
approximately 3.1 percent of the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort population of 
13,326 animals. However, due principally to diverting away from noise 
from the drilling activity, SOI estimates that only 3 individuals are 
estimated to be exposed to sounds [gteqt] 160 dB equaling < 1 percent 
of the population. These animals may be feeding or engaging in non-
migratory behavior and therefore are unlikely to be affected by seismic 
sounds <= 160 dB.
    A few belugas may be exposed to sounds produced by the geotechnical 
activities; therefore, the numbers potentially affected are small 
relative to the population sizes. As mentioned previously, narwhals are 
extremely rare in the U.S. Beaufort Sea and none are expected to be 
encountered during the geotechnical work. The best estimate of the 
number of belugas that might be exposed to [gteqt] 120 dB (10) 
represents < 1 percent of their population. No species, other than the 
bowhead whale, are expected to be exposed to levels [gteqt] 160 dB.
Pinnipeds
    A few pinnipeds are likely to be encountered in the geotechnical 
activities area, but the ringed seal is by far the most abundant marine 
mammal that will be encountered. The best (average) estimates of the 
numbers of individuals exposed to sounds at received levels [gteqt] 120 
dB re 1 microPa (rms) during the geotechnical activities are as 
follows: ringed seals (604), bearded seals (31), and spotted seals (6), 
(representing < 1 percent of their respective Beaufort Sea 
populations). SOI notes that pinnipeds are unlikely to react to steady 
sounds until they are much stronger than 120 dB re 1 microPa, so it is 
probable that only a small percentage of those would actually be 
disturbed. Based on density calculations provided in SOI's IHA 
application, no pinnipeds are estimated to be exposed to sounds > 160 
dB.

Summary - Towing the Kulluk

    A vessel towing the Kulluk through the Canadian Beaufort Sea from 
Tuktoyaktuk to the US-Canadian border would travel about 358 km (222 
mi). Transit from the US-Canadian border to the Sivulliq prospect in 
western Camden Bay would be about 170 km (106 mi) in length for a total 
transit length of approximately 528 km (328mi). Although SOI has 
estimated potential exposure levels for both sections of the transit, 
because the taking of marine mammals inside Canadian territorial waters 
cannot be authorized under the MMPA, NMFS will authorize only those 
takings (by harassment) estimated to result within U.S. waters.
    Sounds produced by a vessel towing the Kulluk have not been 
measured. As a surrogate, measurements of sounds produced by the 
Gilavar in Camden Bay while it towed 32 airguns and four hydrophone 
streamers were used as estimates of the [gteqt] 160 dB and [gteqt]120 
dB distances. The estimated [gteqt]160 dB distance from the Gilavar 
measurements is 10 m (3.3 ft) and the [gteqt] 120 dB distance is 6.3 km 
(3.9 mi). Using these distances and the estimated trackline distance 
above the area of water potentially ensonified to [gteqt]160 dB would 
be approximately 11 km\2\ and to [gteqt] 120 dB would be approximately 
6653 km\2\.
    Average and maximum estimates of bowhead whale densities along the 
transit route were estimated from aerial survey data collected during 
the month of September near Kaktovik reported in Richardson and 
Thompson (eds. 2002, Table 6-6). Densities of belugas used in this 
analysis are the same as shown in the ``ice margin'' column of Table 6-
1 as these densities are also reasonable estimates of beluga density in 
the waters through which this transit will likely occur. All other 
species densities are the same as those presented in the ``nearshore'' 
(0-200 m water depth) column in Table 6-2 in SOI's 2008 IHA 
application.
Cetaceans
    Effects on cetaceans are generally expected to be restricted to 
avoidance of a limited area around the towing vessel activities due to 
the noise. These short-term changes in behavior fall within the MMPA 
definition of ``Level B harassment''. Furthermore, the estimated 
numbers of animals potentially exposed to sound levels sufficient to 
cause disturbance are relatively low percentages of the population 
sizes in the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort seas, as described next.
    Based on the 120-dB criterion for intermittent/continuous noise 
effects caused by ship propulsion noise, the best (average) estimates 
of the numbers of individual cetaceans exposed represent varying 
proportions of the populations of each species in the Beaufort Sea. For 
this activity, SOI estimates that approximately 196 bowheads (63 in 
U.S., 133 in Canada) will be exposed to sound pressure levels of 120 dB 
or greater. This level is less than 1 percent of the BCB population of 
the BCB population of 13,326 animals. Also, due principally to 
diverting away from noise from the drilling activity, SOI estimates 
that no bowheads individuals will be exposed to sounds [gteqt] 160 dB.
    Some belugas may be exposed to sounds produced by the Kulluk towing 
activities; (total 208 (66 in U.S.; 141 in Canada). However, the number 
of potentially affected belugas isare small relative to their 
population size. The best estimate of the number of belugas that might 
be exposed to [gteqt] 120 dB represents <1 percent of their population. 
As mentioned previously, narwhals are extremely rare in the U.S. 
Beaufort Sea and none are expected to be encountered during the towing 
operation. Due to the time of the year that towing will take place, and 
the small zone of influence by towing operatins, no cetacean species 
are expected to be exposed to levels [gteqt]160 dB.
Pinnipeds
    Pinnipeds are likely to be encountered while towing the Kulluk from 
Tuktoyaktuk to Sivulluq with the ringed seal by far the most abundant 
marine mammal that will be encountered. The best (average) estimates of 
the numbers of individuals exposed to sounds at received levels 
[gteqt]120 dB re 1 microPa (rms) during the towing activities are as 
follows: ringed seals (755 in U.S.; 1605 in Canada), bearded seals (39 
in U.S.; 82 in Canada), and spotted seals (8 in U.S.; 17 in Canada). 
SOI notes that pinnipeds are unlikely to react to steady sounds, such 
as those produced by a vessel towing another vessel, until the sound 
levels are significantly higher than 120 dB re 1 microPa, so it is 
probable that only a small percentage of those would actually be 
disturbed. A total of 4 ringed seals potentially could be exposed to 
sounds >160 dB.

Potential Impact On Habitat

    SOI states that the proposed tophole drilling and related 
activities will not result in any permanent impact on habitats used by 
marine mammals, or to

[[Page 31824]]

their prey sources. Any effects would be temporary and of short 
duration at any one location. The effects of the planned drilling 
activities are expected to be negligible. It is estimated that only a 
small portion of the animals utilizing the areas of the proposed 
activities would be temporarily displaced from that habitat. During the 
period of SOI's geotech activities, most marine mammals would be 
dispersed throughout the Beaufort Sea area. The peak of the bowhead 
whale migration through the Beaufort Sea typically occurs in September 
and October, and SOI will discuss its efforts to reduce potential 
impacts during this time with the affected whaling communities. 
Starting in late-August, bowheads may travel in proximity to the 
drilling activity and some might be displaced seaward by the planned 
activities. The numbers of cetaceans and pinnipeds subject to 
displacement are small in relation to abundance estimates for the 
affected mammal stocks.
    In addition, SOI states that feeding does not appear to be an 
important activity by bowheads migrating through the eastern and 
central part of the Alaskan Beaufort Sea in most years. In the absence 
of important feeding areas, the potential diversion of a small number 
of bowheads is not expected to have any significant or long-term 
consequences for individual bowheads or their population. Bowheads, 
gray, or beluga whales are not expected to be excluded from any 
significant habitat.
    The proposed activities are not expected to have any habitat-
related effects that would produce long-term affects to marine mammals 
or their habitat due to the limited extent of the acquisition areas and 
timing of the activities.

Potential Effects of Drilling Sounds and Related Activities on 
Subsistence Needs

    SOI notes that there could be an adverse impact on the Inupiat fall 
bowhead subsistence hunt if whales were deflected seaward (further from 
shore) in the traditional hunting areas north of Pt. Thomson in Camden 
Bay. The impact could be that whaling crews would have to travel 
greater distances to intercept westward migrating whales thereby 
creating a safety hazard for whaling crews and/or limiting chances of 
successfully striking and landing bowheads. For 2008, the geotechnical 
program is planned to occur before subsistence whaling begins, while 
the tophole section drilling will not occur until after the bowhead 
whaling season has concluded.
    This potential impact on the bowhead subsistence hunt is proposed 
by SOI to be mitigated through the application of mitigation procedures 
described later in this document and implemented by a Conflict 
Avoidance Agreement (CAA) between SOI, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling 
Commission (AEWC) and the whaling captains' associations of Kaktovik, 
Nuiqsut and Barrow. SOI believes that the proposed mitigation measures 
will minimize adverse effects on whales and whalers. (see Mitigation 
later in this document). Regardless of whether a 2008 CAA is 
successfully negotiated, SOI states that it is committed to the 
mitigation measures described later in this document. As a result, NMFS 
believes that there should not be an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of the marine mammal species, particularly bowhead whales, 
for subsistence uses.

Proposed Mitigation for Subsistence Hunting

    NMFS regulations (50 CFR 216.104(b)(13)) require IHA applicants for 
activities that take place in or near a traditional Arctic subsistence 
hunting area and/or may affect the availability of a species or stock 
of marine mammal for Arctic subsistence uses to submit a Plan of 
Cooperation (POC) or similar information that identifies what measures 
have been taken and/or will be taken to minimize any adverse effects on 
the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses. First, NMFS 
regulations require a statement that the IHA applicant has notified and 
provided the affected subsistence community with a draft POC. A summary 
of SOI's POC meetings during 2006 and 2007 is provided in SOI's 2008 
IHA application.
    For the 2008 proposed open water activities, SOI met with the AEWC 
and the whaling captains associations of Nuiqsut, Kaktovik, Wainwright, 
Pt. Hope, and Barrow between February 7-11, 2008 to address concerns 
from affected bowhead whale subsistence users regarding SOI's 2007 open 
water program and planned upcoming 2008 open water activities. If 
successfully negotiated and signed, a CAA would be a component of SOI's 
2008-2009 POC and is anticipated it will cover the proposed Beaufort 
Sea exploratory drilling program. In addition, in 2008 SOI held several 
community POC meetings to discuss SOI's 2008 open water programs in the 
Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.
    Also, in order to assess the concerns of other affected subsistence 
users, SOI also met with the marine mammal commissioners of the AEWC, 
Alaska Beluga Whale Committee, Ice Seal Committee, and the Nanuuq 
Commission during a two-day meeting December 12-13, 2007 in Anchorage 
to discuss 2007/2008 programs. Additional meetings have been held 
during the spring, 2008.
    SOI plans to hold community meetings in Barrow, Nuiqsut, Kaktovik, 
Wainwright, Point Hope, and Point Lay, regarding its Beaufort and 
Chukchi Seas 2008 open water programs. During these meetings, SOI 
states that it will focus on lessons learned from the 2007 open water 
program and, present the proposed 2008 program activities, and describe 
SOI's adaptive management approach toward conducting its activities. 
SOI states that it will continue to hold meetings with the above 
mentioned marine mammal commissions that are focused on ice seals, 
walrus, polar bears, and beluga.
    NMFS regulations also require affected IHA applicants to provide a 
description of what measures the applicant has taken and/or will take 
to ensure that proposed activities will not interfere with subsistence 
whaling or sealing. For SOI's open water exploration drilling of the 
tophole sections at Sivulluq, SOI states that the Kulluk and all 
support vessels will operate in accordance with the provisions of the 
POC. The POC is developed to mitigate effects of SOI's proposed 
program(s) where activities would take place in or near a traditional 
Arctic subsistence hunting area and/or may affect the availability of a 
species or stock of marine mammal for Arctic subsistence uses. SOI has 
consulted in the past and will consult this year with affected Beaufort 
(and Chukchi) Sea communities and marine mammal associations for the 
development and improvement of the POC. For the drilling program, SOI's 
POC with Beaufort Sea villages will address vessel transit, drilling 
and associated activities. It is the intention of SOI to negotiate a 
CAA with the AEWC, and whaling captain's associations of affected 
Beaufort and Chukchi Sea villages, as a component of the POC. If a CAA 
is negotiated with AEWC, then the provisions of the CAA will be 
included in the POC. In the absence of a signed CAA, SOI states that it 
is committed to implementing the mitigation measures described later in 
this section of the notice and will implement these measures, which are 
intended to minimize any adverse effects on the availability of marine 
mammals for subsistence uses.
    In addition, NMFS notes that a POC will specify times and areas to 
avoid in order to minimize possible conflicts with traditional 
subsistence hunts by North Slope villages for transit and drilling 
operations. For its 2008 tophole

[[Page 31825]]

section drilling program, SOI has stated that it will not operate the 
Kulluk and associated vessels in Camden Bay until after the Kaktovik 
and Nuiqsut fall bowhead whale subsistence harvests are completed. 
Appropriate operational restrictions applicable for future open-water 
drilling activities (2009 and beyond) will be developed in consultation 
with affected communities via the POC.
    The geotechnical vessel's activities will also operate in 
accordance with the provisions of a POC. SOI plans to complete the 
geotechnical program prior to the fall bowhead whale subsistence 
harvests of the communities of Kaktovik and Nuiqsut. SOI states that it 
will not operate the geotechnical program in Camden Bay during the 
Kaktovik and Nuiqsut fall bowhead whale subsistence harvests. If SOI is 
unable to complete the planned geotechnical program before the onset of 
fall whaling for Kaktovik and Nuiqsut, SOI plans to return to Sivulliq, 
and/or prospective pipeline corridor after the conclusion of the 
harvest to complete the program.
    SOI states that the Kulluk, the geotech vessel and all support 
vessels and aircraft will operate in accordance with the conditions of 
a CAA currently being negotiated with the AEWC. However, regardless of 
whether a CAA is signed, SOI states that it will implement the 
following key mitigation measure concepts that will be included in 
SOI's POC:
    1. If not completed prior to the bowhead whale subsistence hunt, 
the geotechnical program will cease during the Kaktovik and Nuiqsut 
(Cross Island) fall bowhead whale subsistence harvests. The 
geotechnical vessel will be relocated out of Camden Bay during this 
time.
    2. Communications system between operator's vessels and the whaling 
hunting crews. This includes the 24 hours per day operation of 
communication centers in Kaktovik (Call center) and Deadhorse (Com 
center) areas, which are staffed by Inupiat operators, and the 
installation of radio equipment in the whaler's boats. The Deadhorse 
Com center and Kaktovik Call center also provides a method for other 
subsistence hunters, such as seal hunters, who can communicate with the 
industry vessels.
    3. Provision for marine mammal observers (MMOs) aboard all project 
vessels (see below).
    4. Conflict resolution procedures.
    5. Plan all vessel and aircraft routes to minimize the impact on 
subsistence hunts. Aircraft will not operate below 1000 ft. (309 m) 
unless approaching, landing or taking off, or unless engaged in 
providing assistance, or in poor weather low ceiling, or other 
emergency situation.
    6. A ``Good Neighbor Policy'' that provides for financial 
compensation in the unlikely event that an oil spill diminishes the 
availability or usability of subsistence resources such as bowhead or 
beluga whales, seals, walrus, polar bear, fish or water fowl.
    7. Provisions for rendering emergency assistance to subsistence 
hunting crews.

Proposed Marine Mammal Mitigation and Monitoring Measures

    SOI has proposed implementing a marine mammal mitigation and 
monitoring program (4MP) that will consist of monitoring and mitigation 
during the exploratory drilling activities. In conjunction with 
monitoring during SOI's seismic and shallow-hazard surveys (subject to 
an upcoming notice and review), monitoring will provide information on 
the numbers of marine mammals potentially affected by these activities 
and permit real time mitigation to prevent injury of marine mammals by 
industrial sounds or activities. These goals will be accomplished by 
conducting vessel-, aerial-, and acoustic-monitoring programs to 
characterize the sounds produced by the drilling and to document the 
potential reactions of marine mammals in the area to those sounds and 
activities. Acoustic modeling will be used to predict the sound levels 
produced by the shallow hazards and drilling equipment in the U.S. 
Beaufort Sea. For the drilling program, acoustic measurements will also 
be made to establish zones of influence (ZOIs) around the activities 
that will be monitored by observers. Aerial monitoring and 
reconnaissance of marine mammals and recordings of ambient sound 
levels, vocalizations of marine mammals, and received levels should 
they be detectable using bottom-founded acoustic recorders along the 
Beaufort Sea coast will be used to interpret the reactions of marine 
mammals exposed to the activities. The components of SOI's monitoring 
program is briefly described next. Additional information can be found 
in SOI's IHA application.

Mitigation and Monitoring Measures During Transit of the Chukchi and 
Beaufort Seas

    A Chukchi Sea vessel transit mitigation plan has been developed to 
identify transit strategies that will minimize and mitigate possible 
impacts to marine mammals and subsistence hunting activities in the 
offshore and adjacent coastal areas along the transit route if vessels 
associated with SOI's drilling program transit through the Chukchi Sea 
on the way to the Sivulliq prospect in the eastern Alaskan Beaufort 
Sea. The plan relies principally on strategies of avoidance, 
minimization, monitoring, and communication to reduce exposure of 
marine mammals to sound levels and visual stimuli that could be capable 
of disturbance, displacement, or significant alteration of behavior.
    Avoidance of areas where exposure of marine mammals to disturbance 
will be accomplished in the Chukchi Sea by positioning the transit 
route > 50 mi (80 km) offshore and, to the extent possible, in open 
water. By remaining > 50 mi (80 km) offshore, the transit route remains 
away from areas of coastal concentration of marine mammals, including 
seals, walrus, and beluga whales. By remaining in open water, to the 
greatest extent possible, noise levels will be kept to a minimum. In 
open water, the transit will be relatively slow and steady and will not 
require engine revving or other operations that increase cavitation.
    In the event that the presence of ice in the transit route makes 
the maintenance of a > 50 mi offshore buffer in the Chukchi Sea 
practicable, SOI proposes to reduce this buffer in favor of maintenance 
of a 0.5 mi (804 m) buffer between the transit route and the ice edge. 
By staying out of the ice, the vessels will minimize sound emission 
levels and will remain away from hauled out concentrations of walrus 
and seals. The transit distance from shore may decrease below the 
desired 50 mi buffer but SOI notes it will not enter the polynia zone.
    On-board MMOs will be on duty on all vessels during the transit and 
will direct vessel transit to remain, where possible, one-half mile or 
greater from marine mammals (understanding that marine mammals may 
approach the vessels) to and avoid collisions with marine mammals. 
During ice transits, MMOs will supplement aerial surveys and assist in 
the maintenance of buffers and observation of marine mammal 
concentrations and behaviors. If such observations demonstrate 
disturbance behavior, buffers will be adjusted as appropriate.

Vessel-based Marine Mammal Monitoring Program

    The vessel-based operations will be the core of SOI's 4MP. The 4MP 
will be designed to ensure that disturbance to marine mammals and 
subsistence hunts is minimized, that effects on marine mammals are 
documented, and to collect baseline data on the occurrence and 
distribution of marine mammals in

[[Page 31826]]

the study area. Those objectives will be achieved, in part, through the 
vessel-based monitoring and mitigation program.
    The 4MP will be implemented by a team of experienced MMOs, 
including both biologists and Inupiat personnel, approved in advance by 
NMFS. The MMOs will be stationed aboard the drilling vessel, the 
geotechnical vessel, and associated support vessels throughout the 
drilling period. The duties of the MMOs will include watching for and 
identifying marine mammals; recording their numbers, distances, and 
reactions to the drilling operations; initiating mitigation measures 
when appropriate; and reporting the results. Reporting of the results 
of the vessel-based monitoring program will include the estimation of 
the number of ``takes.''
    The vessel-based operations of SOI's 4MP will be required to 
support the vessel based drilling or geotechnical activities in the 
central and eastern Alaskan Beaufort Sea (July through October). The 
dates and operating areas will depend upon ice and weather conditions, 
along with SOI's arrangements with agencies and stakeholders. 
Exploratory drilling activities are expected to occur after whaling 
during 2008, whereas geotechnical activities are expected to occur 
prior to whaling during 2008. Vessel-based monitoring for marine 
mammals will be done throughout the period of drilling operations in 
compliance with monitoring requirements contained in the IHA issued to 
SOI, if warranted.
    The vessel-based work will provide: (1) the basis for real-time 
mitigation, (2) information needed to estimate the ``take'' of marine 
mammals by harassment, (3) data on the occurrence, distribution, and 
activities of marine mammals in the areas where the drilling program is 
conducted, (4) information to compare the distances, distributions, 
behavior, and movements of marine mammals relative to the source 
vessels at times with and without drilling or ice-management activity, 
(5) a communication channel to Inupiat whalers and the Whaling 
Coordination Center, and (6) employment and capacity building for local 
residents, with one objective being to develop a larger pool of 
experienced Inupiat MMOs.
    All MMOs will be provided training through a program approved by 
NMFS. At least one observer on each vessel will be an Inupiat who will 
have the additional responsibility of communicating with the Inupiat 
community and (during the whaling season) directly with Inupiat 
whalers. Details of the vessel-based marine mammal monitoring program 
are described in the IHA application.

Mitigation and Monitoring Measures During Drilling Activities

    SOI's proposed offshore drilling program incorporates both design 
features and operational procedures for minimizing potential impacts on 
marine mammals and on subsistence hunts. The design features and 
operational procedures have been described in the IHA applications and 
are summarized here. Survey design features to reduce impacts include: 
(1) timing and locating some drilling support activities to avoid 
interference with the annual fall bowhead whale hunts from Kaktovik, 
Nuiqsut (Cross Island), and Barrow; (2) conducting pre-work modeling 
(and early season field assessments) to establish the appropriate 180 
dB and 190 dB safety zones (if necessary), and the 160 and 120 dB 
behavior radii; and (3) vessel-based (and aerial) monitoring to 
implement appropriate mitigation (and to assess the effects of project 
activities on marine mammals). Also, the potential disturbance of 
marine mammals during drilling operations will be minimized further 
through the implementation of several ship-based mitigation measures as 
discussed below.
    Under current NMFS guidance ``safety radii'' for marine mammals 
around acoustic sources are customarily defined as the distances within 
which received pulse levels are [gteqt] 180 dB re 1 microPa (rms) for 
cetaceans and [gteqt]190 dB re 1 microPa (rms) for pinnipeds. These 
safety criteria are based on an assumption that lower received levels 
will not injure these animals or impair their hearing abilities, but 
that higher received levels might have a potential for such effects. 
Greene (1987) reported SPLs ranging from 130-136 dB (rms) at 0.2 km 
(656 ft) from the Kulluk during drilling activities (drilling, 
tripping, and cleaning) in the Arctic. (Higher received levels up to 
148 dB (rms) were recorded for supply vessels that were underway and 
for icebreaking activities.) As a result, SOI believes that the tophole 
exploratory and geotechnical drilling and the activities of the support 
vessels are not likely to produce sound levels 180 dB (rms) or greater 
and thereby have potential to cause temporary hearing loss or permanent 
hearing damage to any marine mammals. Consequently, standard mitigation 
as described later in this document for seismic activities including 
shut down of any drilling activity should not be necessary (unless 
sound monitoring tests described elsewhere in this document indicate 
SPLs at or greater than 180 dB). If testing indicates SPLs will reach 
or exceed 180 dB or 190 dB, then appropriate mitigation measures would 
be implemented by SOI to avoid potential Level A harassment of 
cetaceans (at or above 180 dB) or pinnipeds (at or above 190 dB). 
Mitigation measures may include reducing drilling or ice management 
noises, whichever is appropriate. Moreover, SOI plans to use MMOs 
onboard the drill ships and the various support and supply vessels to 
monitor marine mammals and their responses to industry activities. In 
addition, an acoustical program and an aerial survey program which are 
discussed in previous sections will be implemented to determine 
potential impacts of the drilling program on marine mammals.

Marine Mammal Observers

    MMOs will be required onboard each vessel to ensure that 
observations can be conducted efficiently and without fatigue. MMOs 
will be required onboard each vessel to meet the following criteria: 
(1) availability for monitoring and consultation coverage during 
periods of drilling operations in daylight; (2) maximum of 4 
consecutive hours on watch per MMO; (3) maximum of approx. 12 hours on 
watch per day per MMO. The observer(s) (MMOs and Inupiat) will watch 
for marine mammals from the best available vantage point on the 
operating source vessel, which is usually the bridge or flying bridge. 
The observer(s) will scan systematically with the naked eye and 7 50 
reticle binoculars, supplemented with night-vision equipment when 
needed (see below). Personnel on the bridge will assist the marine 
mammal observer(s) in watching for pinnipeds and whales. The 
observer(s) will give particular attention to the areas around the 
vessel. When a mammal sighting is made, the following information about 
the sighting will be recorded: (1) Species, group size, age/size/sex 
categories (if determinable), behavior when first sighted and after 
initial sighting, heading (if consistent), bearing and distance from 
drilling vessel, apparent reaction to drilling noise (e.g., none, 
avoidance, approach, paralleling, etc.), closest point of approach, and 
behavioral pace; (2) time, location, heading, speed, and activity of 
the vessel (if underway at the time), sea state, ice cover, visibility, 
and sun glare; (3) the positions of other vessel(s) in the vicinity of 
the source vessel. This information will be recorded by the MMOs at 
times of whale and seal sightings.
    The ship's position and its heading, and speed (if the vessel is 
underway),

[[Page 31827]]

activity state (e.g., drilling, non-drilling), and water temperature, 
water depth, sea state, ice cover, visibility, and sun glare will also 
be recorded at the start and end of each observation watch, every 30 
minutes during a watch, and whenever there is a change in any of those 
variables. Distances to nearby marine mammals will be estimated with 
binoculars containing a reticle to measure the vertical angle of the 
line of sight to the animal relative to the horizon. Observers may use 
a laser rangefinder to test and improve their abilities for visually 
estimating distances to objects in the water. However, previous 
experience showed that this Class 1 eye-safe device was not able to 
measure distances to seals more than about 70 m (230 ft) away. However, 
it was very useful in improving the distance estimation abilities of 
the observers at distances up to about 600 m (1968 ft)-the maximum 
range at which the device could measure distances to highly reflective 
objects such as other vessels. Experience indicates that humans 
observing objects of more-or-less known size via a standard observation 
protocol, in this case from a standard height above water, quickly 
become able to estimate distances within about plus or minus 20 percent 
when given immediate feedback about actual distances during training.
    In addition to routine MMO duties, Inupiat observers will be 
encouraged to record comments about their observations into the 
``comment'' field in the database. Copies of these records will be 
available to the Inupiat observers for reference if they wish to 
prepare a statement about their observations. If prepared, this 
statement would be included in the 90-day and final reports documenting 
the monitoring work.
    Night-vision equipment (``Generation 3'' binocular image 
intensifiers, or equivalent units) will be available for use when 
needed during nighttime observations. However, past experience with 
night-vision devices (NVDs) in the Beaufort Sea and elsewhere indicates 
that NVDs are not nearly as effective as visual observation during 
daylight hours (e.g., Harris et al., 1997, 1998; Moulton and Lawson, 
2002). However, for drilling and geotechnical operations, the safety 
zone is stationary and is sufficiently small to allow effective 
monitoring of the safety zones.

Proposed Additional Mitigation Measures

    In addition to the standard mitigation and monitoring measures 
discussed in SOI's IHA application, NMFS is also proposing to require 
in the IHA, additional mitigation measures to protect feeding and 
migrating bowhead whales in the U.S. Beaufort Sea. These include (1) 
not conducting drilling operations during the bowhead migration and 
subsistence hunting periods and vessel and aerial monitoring 
requirements to look for feeding gray and bowhead whale concentrations 
and migrating bowhead whale cow/calf pairs. If changes in behavior are 
observed during operations, drilling operations must cease until the 
whales have migrated past the drilling location.

Underwater Acoustical Monitoring Program

    As described in more detail in SOI's IHA application, sounds 
produced during the drilling and geotechnical operations and vessels 
supporting the offshore drilling program will be measured in the field 
during typical operations. These measurements will be used to establish 
potential disturbance radii for respective marine mammal groups within 
the project area. The goals and objectives of SOI's planned work are: 
(1) to measure the distances from the various sound sources to 
broa