Deep Seabed Mining: Approval of Exploration License Extensions, 42327-42329 [2017-18994]

Download as PDF mstockstill on DSK30JT082PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 172 / Thursday, September 7, 2017 / Notices Soft start shall be implemented at the start of each day’s impact pile driving and at any time following cessation of impact pile driving for a period of thirty minutes or longer. (h) Pile driving shall only be conducted during daylight hours. (i) Pile driving shall only occur during July to November months. 5. Monitoring. The holder of this Authorization is required to conduct marine mammal monitoring during pile driving and removal activities. Marine mammal monitoring and reporting shall be conducted in accordance with the monitoring measures in the application. (a) Venoco shall collect sighting data and behavioral responses to pile driving for marine mammal species observed in the region of activity during the period of activity. All observers shall be trained in marine mammal identification and behaviors, and shall have no other construction-related tasks while conducting monitoring. (b) Monitoring shall be conducted by qualified observers. Trained observers shall be placed from the best vantage point(s) practicable to monitor for marine mammals and implement shutdown or delay procedures when applicable through communication with the equipment operator. Observer training must be provided prior to project start and in accordance with the monitoring measures in the application, and shall include instruction on species identification (sufficient to distinguish the species listed in 3(b)), description and categorization of observed behaviors and interpretation of behaviors that may be construed as being reactions to the specified activity, proper completion of data forms, and other basic components of biological monitoring, including tracking of observed animals or groups of animals such that repeat sound exposures may be attributed to individuals (to the extent possible). (c) For all marine mammal monitoring, the information shall be recorded as described in the monitoring measures section of the application. 6. Reporting. The holder of this Authorization is required to: (a) Submit a draft report on all monitoring conducted under the IHA within 90 days of the completion of marine mammal monitoring, or 60 days prior to the issuance of any subsequent IHA for projects at the Project area, whichever comes first. A final report shall be prepared and submitted within thirty days following resolution of comments on the draft report from NMFS. This report must contain the VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:42 Sep 06, 2017 Jkt 241001 informational elements described in the application, at minimum (see www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/construction.htm), and shall also include: i. Detailed information about any implementation of shutdowns, including the distance of animals to the pile and description of specific actions that ensued and resulting behavior of the animal, if any. ii. Description of attempts to distinguish between the number of individual animals taken and the number of incidents of take, such as ability to track groups or individuals. iii. An estimated total take estimate extrapolated from the number of marine mammals observed during the course of construction activities, if necessary. (b) Reporting injured or dead marine mammals: i. In the unanticipated event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by this IHA, such as a serious injury or mortality, Venoco shall immediately cease the specified activities and report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinator. The report must include the following information: A. Time and date of the incident; B. Description of the incident; C. Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); D. Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; E. Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; F. Fate of the animal(s); and G. Photographs or video footage of the animal(s). Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS will work with Venoco to determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Venoco may not resume their activities until notified by NMFS. ii. In the event that the Venoco discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead observer determines that the cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (e.g., in less than a moderate state of decomposition), Venoco shall immediately report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast Regional Stranding Coordinator. The report must include the same information identified in 6(b)(i) of this IHA. Activities may continue while PO 00000 Frm 00059 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 42327 NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work with Venoco to determine whether additional mitigation measures or modifications to the activities are appropriate. iii. In the event that Venoco discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead observer determines that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the activities authorized in the IHA (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, scavenger damage), Venoco shall report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS, within 24 hours of the discovery. Venoco shall provide photographs or video footage or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS. 7. This Authorization may be modified, suspended or withdrawn if the holder fails to abide by the conditions prescribed herein, or if NMFS determines the authorized taking is having more than a negligible impact on the species or stock of affected marine mammals. Request for Public Comments We request comment on our analyses, the draft authorization, and any other aspect of this Notice of Proposed IHA for the proposed fender pile replacement. Please include with your comments any supporting data or literature citations to help inform our final decision on the request for MMPA authorization. Dated: September 1, 2017. Donna S. Wieting, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2017–18974 Filed 9–6–17; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Deep Seabed Mining: Approval of Exploration License Extensions Office for Coastal Management, National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce. ACTION: Notice of extension of Deep Seabed Hard Mineral Exploration Licenses. AGENCY: NOAA is announcing the approval of two, five-year extensions of deep seabed hard mineral exploration licenses issued under the Deep Seabed SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\07SEN1.SGM 07SEN1 42328 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 172 / Thursday, September 7, 2017 / Notices Hard Mineral Resource Act (DSHMRA). The decision to approve the extensions follows a determination that the Licensee has substantially complied with the licenses, their terms, conditions and restrictions, and the associated exploration plan, and a review of comments on the requested extensions. No at-sea exploration activities are authorized by these extensions without authorization and further environmental review by NOAA. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kerry Kehoe, Office for Coastal Management (N/OCM6), NOS, NOAA, 1305 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910; 240–533–0782; email Kerry.Kehoe@noaa.gov. On February 21, 2017, Lockheed Martin Corporation (Licensee or ‘‘LMC’’) requested from NOAA an extension of two exploration licenses that it holds under the Deep Seabed Hard Mineral Resources Act (DSHMRA). The licenses are known as USA–1 and USA–4. When originally issued in 1984, USA–1 and USA–4 were for a term of ten years. DSHMRA requires that requests to extend the licenses be approved every five years if the licensee has substantially complied with the licenses, their terms, conditions and restrictions, and the associated exploration plan. On April 20, 2017, NOAA published a Federal Register notice (82 FR 18613) announcing the receipt of the extension request for USA–1 and USA–4, and soliciting comments on whether the Licensee had met the statutory requirement of showing substantial compliance. Comments were also solicited from the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council (WPFMC) and the U.S. Department of State. A response to comments is included in this notice. Upon determining that the Licensee had substantially complied with the licenses, their terms, conditions and restrictions, and the associated exploration plan, and completing environmental review of the request for extension in conformance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, NOAA approved a five-year extension of the licenses through June 2, 2022. The extension maintains the proprietary interests that the licenses confer upon the Licensee but does not authorize LMC to conduct at-sea exploration activities pursuant to the licenses. Additional authorization and further environmental review by NOAA is required before at-sea exploration may mstockstill on DSK30JT082PROD with NOTICES SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:42 Sep 06, 2017 Jkt 241001 be undertaken pursuant to these licenses. Response to Comments: As noted above, in addition to the Federal Register notice requesting comments on the extension request, comments were solicited from WPFMC and the U.S. Department of State. The WPFMC found that none of the fisheries under the Council’s jurisdiction would be affected by the onshore activities outlined in the extension request, and had no objections to the extension. The Department of State reviewed the request and had no objections or comments. NOAA received five responses to the Federal Register notice request for comments. The comments received are summarized as follows along with the responses by the NOAA Office for Coastal Management. Comment: Deep seabed mining can result in environmental disturbance and harm to ocean ecosystems and should not be authorized. Response: LMC is not proposing, and NOAA is not authorizing, at-sea deep seabed exploration activities at this time. Rather, NOAA is extending existing exploration licenses, which by their terms, require additional NOAA approval prior to the Licensee commencing at-sea exploration activities. Commercial recovery operations are not permitted by the USA–1 and USA–4 licenses. Comment: Unless and until there is full accession by the United States to the 1982 United Nations Law on the Sea Convention, United States companies should be prohibited from conducting exploration activities on the international seabed. Response: The NOAA Administrator is under an obligation established by Congress to issue an extension of these licenses to a U.S. applicant if the relevant criteria are satisfied. One of the express purposes of DSHMRA is to establish an interim program to regulate the exploration for and commercial recovery of hard mineral resources of the deep seabed by United States citizens pending the ratification by, and entering into force with respect to the United States, of what was then known as the Law of the Sea Treaty. See 30 U.S.C. 1401(b)(3). Under the requirements of Section 107(a) of DSHMRA, NOAA is required to approve requests to extend exploration licenses if the Licensee has substantially complied with the license, its terms, conditions and restrictions, and the exploration plan associated therewith. See 30 U.S.C. 1417(a). Consistent with the criteria set forth in 15 CFR 970.515(b), NOAA has determined that PO 00000 Frm 00060 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 the Licensee has substantially complied with the licenses, their terms, conditions and restrictions, and associated exploration plan, and therefore, extension of USA–1 and USA–4 licenses may not be withheld. A DSHMRA exploration license gives the holder the exclusive right to explore a specific area, but only as against other U.S. entities. Any rights a U.S. company may have domestically are not secured internationally because U.S. companies are not able to go through the internationally recognized process at the International Seabed Authority established for Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Comment: There has not been meaningful progress by the Licensee to show that there has been substantial compliance with the licenses and exploration plan. In claiming that the exploration plan has been diligently pursued, the Licensee claims credit for work that was not conducted by the Licensee or even in the USA–1 or USA–4 license areas. The extension request should be denied. Response: NOAA disagrees with the conclusion that the Licensee has not substantially complied with the USA–1 and USA–4 licenses and the exploration plan associated therewith. In assessing whether the Licensee has substantially complied with the licenses, their terms, conditions and restrictions, and the associated exploration plan, the Act requires that the Licensee pursue diligently the activities described in its approved exploration plan. The licenses further specify that in order to show that it has diligently pursued the activities in its approved exploration plan, the Licensee shall submit an annual report demonstrating conformance with the schedule of activities, level of activity, and expenditures for implementing the plan. This report also focuses on the evolving ability of the Licensee to apply for a permit for commercial recovery. In regard to satisfying the diligence requirement, the Deep Seabed Mining Regulations for Exploration Licenses state that: Ultimately, the diligence requirement will involve a retrospective determination by the Administrator, based on the licensee’s reasonable conformance to the approved exploration plan. Such determination, however, will take into account the need for some degree of flexibility in an exploration plan. It will also include consideration of the needs and state of development of each licensee, again based on the approved exploration plan. In addition, the determination will take account of legitimate periods of time when there is no or very low expenditure, and will allow for a certain E:\FR\FM\07SEN1.SGM 07SEN1 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 172 / Thursday, September 7, 2017 / Notices degree of flexibility for changes encountered by the licensee in such factors as its resource knowledge and financial considerations. 15 CFR 970.602(c). mstockstill on DSK30JT082PROD with NOTICES The exploration plans associated with these licenses have evolved since their original approval as part of the initial license issuance in 1984. In 1991, NOAA approved a revised exploration plan for USA–1 delaying at-sea exploration due to unfavorable conditions in the metals markets.1 Subsequent extensions of USA–1 included the approval of the exploration plan with the delayed implementation of at-sea activities (referred to as ‘‘Phase II Activities’’ in the exploration plan). When NOAA approved the transfer of USA–4 to the Ocean Minerals Company (OMCO), the predecessor to LMC, in 1994, OMCO stated that no at-sea exploration activities were planned or needed due to data collection that preceded the enactment of DSHMRA. In 2012, NOAA approved a consolidated exploration plan for USA–1 and USA–4 with the same contingency delaying the start of Phase II at-sea exploration activities due to unfavorable market conditions. In addition, the Licensee cited the need to have security of tenure through international recognition of the licenses by the International Seabed Authority following accession by the United States to the UNCLOS, as a justification for delay of the Phase II exploration activities. Since the last extension of these exploration licenses, LMC has made substantial expenditures on activities pursuant its approved exploration plan.2 Noteworthy activities of LMC include: • The integration of data into a GIS system to map nodule density including the density distribution of nodules by concentrations of target metals; • The development of environmental baseline metrics by benthic organism class; • The development of updated economic models based on the validation of the end-to-end baseline architecture for seabed mining through the assessment of each segment of the 1 DSHMRA regulations provide that the Administrator may make allowance for deviation from the exploration plan for good cause, such as significantly changed market conditions (provided the request for extension is accompanied by an amended exploration plan to govern the activities of the licensee during the extended period). See 15 CFR 970.515(b). 2 Although LMC has discussed some work performed in collaboration with a United Kingdom subsidiary in its annual reports, NOAA’s determination of substantial compliance was based upon an assessment of LMC’s contributions to these collaborative efforts. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:42 Sep 06, 2017 Jkt 241001 architecture for its technical and economic feasibility; • Benchtop metallurgical tests of extraction efficiencies for the primary commercial target metals and Rare Earth Elements found in nodules; • Selecting the chain of custody and processing protocols that will be used for mineral content certification which will be necessary in order to obtain financing for future operations; and • Participation in the meetings and discussions of the International Seabed Authority and various international programs pertaining to the deep seabed. In addition, the approved exploration plan includes environmental assessment activities that must occur as a prerequisite to undertaking Phase II. These activities are necessary to further advance the understanding of the seabed environment, and the scientific methodology for its characterization. Developing this understanding is not limited to activities pertaining specifically to the areas licensed to LMC. Working collaboratively with research institutions, nation states, and exploration contractors authorized by the International Seabed Authority, LMC has contributed to collaborative efforts that have made substantial advancements in identifying organisms inhabiting the deep seabed, their abundance, distribution, diversity, and community structure. In addition to taxonomic classifications, these efforts have included genetic characterizations, which are critical to establishing biogeographical distinctions and connectivity in the deep seabed environment. This data and information, in turn, can be used for predictive habitat modelling. These contributions to the advancement of science are expected to be applicable to activities in the areas within the USA–1 and USA–4 licenses when Phase II activities are proposed there. NOAA, therefore, views these efforts as further evidence of the Licensee’s diligence in pursuing the activities described in the exploration plan. As discussed in the exploration plan associated with the requested extension of USA–1 and USA–4, the Licensee continues to find that the market conditions and the lack of international tenure under UNCLOS prevent the company from moving forward with Phase II of its exploration plan. Nonetheless, the Licensee has demonstrated a commitment to retain the licenses on a legitimate presumption that the existing contingencies will be resolved. LMC’s annual reports demonstrate that preparatory work for at-sea exploration is continuing and NOAA has determined that such efforts PO 00000 Frm 00061 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 42329 constitute substantial compliance with the USA–1 and USA–4 licenses and associated exploration plan. As such, extension of USA–1 and USA–4 is warranted. Comment: Due to the LMC’s failure to adequately specify what activities are to occur under the individual exploration licenses, the applicant has failed to substantially comply with its license and application plan, and therefore, the extension requests should be denied. Response: NOAA disagrees. In 2012, NOAA approved a consolidated exploration plan for USA–1 and USA–4. The Phase I preparatory activities within the approved consolidated exploration plan are described generally and appropriately apply to both areas. Given the general nature of the preparatory activities under Phase I, separate descriptions of those activities for both license areas are not necessary. As described above, the Licensee has provided sufficient justification to determine that it has substantially complied with the licenses and associated exploration plan. If the Licensee proceeds to Phase II, activity descriptions pertaining specific areas may be necessary. Federal Domestic Assistance Catalog 11.419 Coastal Zone Management Program Administration. Dated: August 30, 2017. Donna Rivelli, Associate Assistant Administrator for Management and CFO/CAO, Ocean Services and Coastal Zone Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [FR Doc. 2017–18994 Filed 9–6–17; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–08–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XD990 Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Essential Fish Habitat National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of availability of Final Environmental Assessment. AGENCY: NMFS announces the availability of a Final Environmental Assessment for Amendment 10 to the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Fishery Management Plan (FMP). This Final Amendment updates Atlantic HMS essential fish habitat (EFH) based on new scientific evidence or other SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\07SEN1.SGM 07SEN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 172 (Thursday, September 7, 2017)]
[Notices]
[Pages 42327-42329]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-18994]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


Deep Seabed Mining: Approval of Exploration License Extensions

AGENCY: Office for Coastal Management, National Ocean Service, National 
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce.

ACTION: Notice of extension of Deep Seabed Hard Mineral Exploration 
Licenses.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: NOAA is announcing the approval of two, five-year extensions 
of deep seabed hard mineral exploration licenses issued under the Deep 
Seabed

[[Page 42328]]

Hard Mineral Resource Act (DSHMRA). The decision to approve the 
extensions follows a determination that the Licensee has substantially 
complied with the licenses, their terms, conditions and restrictions, 
and the associated exploration plan, and a review of comments on the 
requested extensions. No at-sea exploration activities are authorized 
by these extensions without authorization and further environmental 
review by NOAA.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:  Kerry Kehoe, Office for Coastal 
Management (N/OCM6), NOS, NOAA, 1305 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, 
MD 20910; 240-533-0782; email Kerry.Kehoe@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: On February 21, 2017, Lockheed Martin 
Corporation (Licensee or ``LMC'') requested from NOAA an extension of 
two exploration licenses that it holds under the Deep Seabed Hard 
Mineral Resources Act (DSHMRA). The licenses are known as USA-1 and 
USA-4.
    When originally issued in 1984, USA-1 and USA-4 were for a term of 
ten years. DSHMRA requires that requests to extend the licenses be 
approved every five years if the licensee has substantially complied 
with the licenses, their terms, conditions and restrictions, and the 
associated exploration plan.
    On April 20, 2017, NOAA published a Federal Register notice (82 FR 
18613) announcing the receipt of the extension request for USA-1 and 
USA-4, and soliciting comments on whether the Licensee had met the 
statutory requirement of showing substantial compliance. Comments were 
also solicited from the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council 
(WPFMC) and the U.S. Department of State. A response to comments is 
included in this notice.
    Upon determining that the Licensee had substantially complied with 
the licenses, their terms, conditions and restrictions, and the 
associated exploration plan, and completing environmental review of the 
request for extension in conformance with the requirements of the 
National Environmental Policy Act, NOAA approved a five-year extension 
of the licenses through June 2, 2022. The extension maintains the 
proprietary interests that the licenses confer upon the Licensee but 
does not authorize LMC to conduct at-sea exploration activities 
pursuant to the licenses. Additional authorization and further 
environmental review by NOAA is required before at-sea exploration may 
be undertaken pursuant to these licenses.
    Response to Comments: As noted above, in addition to the Federal 
Register notice requesting comments on the extension request, comments 
were solicited from WPFMC and the U.S. Department of State. The WPFMC 
found that none of the fisheries under the Council's jurisdiction would 
be affected by the onshore activities outlined in the extension 
request, and had no objections to the extension. The Department of 
State reviewed the request and had no objections or comments.
    NOAA received five responses to the Federal Register notice request 
for comments. The comments received are summarized as follows along 
with the responses by the NOAA Office for Coastal Management.
    Comment: Deep seabed mining can result in environmental disturbance 
and harm to ocean ecosystems and should not be authorized.
    Response: LMC is not proposing, and NOAA is not authorizing, at-sea 
deep seabed exploration activities at this time. Rather, NOAA is 
extending existing exploration licenses, which by their terms, require 
additional NOAA approval prior to the Licensee commencing at-sea 
exploration activities. Commercial recovery operations are not 
permitted by the USA-1 and USA-4 licenses.
    Comment: Unless and until there is full accession by the United 
States to the 1982 United Nations Law on the Sea Convention, United 
States companies should be prohibited from conducting exploration 
activities on the international seabed.
    Response: The NOAA Administrator is under an obligation established 
by Congress to issue an extension of these licenses to a U.S. applicant 
if the relevant criteria are satisfied. One of the express purposes of 
DSHMRA is to establish an interim program to regulate the exploration 
for and commercial recovery of hard mineral resources of the deep 
seabed by United States citizens pending the ratification by, and 
entering into force with respect to the United States, of what was then 
known as the Law of the Sea Treaty. See 30 U.S.C. 1401(b)(3). Under the 
requirements of Section 107(a) of DSHMRA, NOAA is required to approve 
requests to extend exploration licenses if the Licensee has 
substantially complied with the license, its terms, conditions and 
restrictions, and the exploration plan associated therewith. See 30 
U.S.C. 1417(a). Consistent with the criteria set forth in 15 CFR 
970.515(b), NOAA has determined that the Licensee has substantially 
complied with the licenses, their terms, conditions and restrictions, 
and associated exploration plan, and therefore, extension of USA-1 and 
USA-4 licenses may not be withheld. A DSHMRA exploration license gives 
the holder the exclusive right to explore a specific area, but only as 
against other U.S. entities. Any rights a U.S. company may have 
domestically are not secured internationally because U.S. companies are 
not able to go through the internationally recognized process at the 
International Seabed Authority established for Parties to the United 
Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
    Comment: There has not been meaningful progress by the Licensee to 
show that there has been substantial compliance with the licenses and 
exploration plan. In claiming that the exploration plan has been 
diligently pursued, the Licensee claims credit for work that was not 
conducted by the Licensee or even in the USA-1 or USA-4 license areas. 
The extension request should be denied.
    Response: NOAA disagrees with the conclusion that the Licensee has 
not substantially complied with the USA-1 and USA-4 licenses and the 
exploration plan associated therewith.
    In assessing whether the Licensee has substantially complied with 
the licenses, their terms, conditions and restrictions, and the 
associated exploration plan, the Act requires that the Licensee pursue 
diligently the activities described in its approved exploration plan. 
The licenses further specify that in order to show that it has 
diligently pursued the activities in its approved exploration plan, the 
Licensee shall submit an annual report demonstrating conformance with 
the schedule of activities, level of activity, and expenditures for 
implementing the plan. This report also focuses on the evolving ability 
of the Licensee to apply for a permit for commercial recovery.
    In regard to satisfying the diligence requirement, the Deep Seabed 
Mining Regulations for Exploration Licenses state that:

    Ultimately, the diligence requirement will involve a 
retrospective determination by the Administrator, based on the 
licensee's reasonable conformance to the approved exploration plan. 
Such determination, however, will take into account the need for 
some degree of flexibility in an exploration plan. It will also 
include consideration of the needs and state of development of each 
licensee, again based on the approved exploration plan. In addition, 
the determination will take account of legitimate periods of time 
when there is no or very low expenditure, and will allow for a 
certain

[[Page 42329]]

degree of flexibility for changes encountered by the licensee in 
such factors as its resource knowledge and financial considerations. 
15 CFR 970.602(c).

    The exploration plans associated with these licenses have evolved 
since their original approval as part of the initial license issuance 
in 1984. In 1991, NOAA approved a revised exploration plan for USA-1 
delaying at-sea exploration due to unfavorable conditions in the metals 
markets.\1\ Subsequent extensions of USA-1 included the approval of the 
exploration plan with the delayed implementation of at-sea activities 
(referred to as ``Phase II Activities'' in the exploration plan). When 
NOAA approved the transfer of USA-4 to the Ocean Minerals Company 
(OMCO), the predecessor to LMC, in 1994, OMCO stated that no at-sea 
exploration activities were planned or needed due to data collection 
that preceded the enactment of DSHMRA. In 2012, NOAA approved a 
consolidated exploration plan for USA-1 and USA-4 with the same 
contingency delaying the start of Phase II at-sea exploration 
activities due to unfavorable market conditions. In addition, the 
Licensee cited the need to have security of tenure through 
international recognition of the licenses by the International Seabed 
Authority following accession by the United States to the UNCLOS, as a 
justification for delay of the Phase II exploration activities. Since 
the last extension of these exploration licenses, LMC has made 
substantial expenditures on activities pursuant its approved 
exploration plan.\2\ Noteworthy activities of LMC include:
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \1\ DSHMRA regulations provide that the Administrator may make 
allowance for deviation from the exploration plan for good cause, 
such as significantly changed market conditions (provided the 
request for extension is accompanied by an amended exploration plan 
to govern the activities of the licensee during the extended 
period). See 15 CFR 970.515(b).
    \2\ Although LMC has discussed some work performed in 
collaboration with a United Kingdom subsidiary in its annual 
reports, NOAA's determination of substantial compliance was based 
upon an assessment of LMC's contributions to these collaborative 
efforts.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

     The integration of data into a GIS system to map nodule 
density including the density distribution of nodules by concentrations 
of target metals;
     The development of environmental baseline metrics by 
benthic organism class;
     The development of updated economic models based on the 
validation of the end-to-end baseline architecture for seabed mining 
through the assessment of each segment of the architecture for its 
technical and economic feasibility;
     Benchtop metallurgical tests of extraction efficiencies 
for the primary commercial target metals and Rare Earth Elements found 
in nodules;
     Selecting the chain of custody and processing protocols 
that will be used for mineral content certification which will be 
necessary in order to obtain financing for future operations; and
     Participation in the meetings and discussions of the 
International Seabed Authority and various international programs 
pertaining to the deep seabed.
    In addition, the approved exploration plan includes environmental 
assessment activities that must occur as a prerequisite to undertaking 
Phase II. These activities are necessary to further advance the 
understanding of the seabed environment, and the scientific methodology 
for its characterization. Developing this understanding is not limited 
to activities pertaining specifically to the areas licensed to LMC. 
Working collaboratively with research institutions, nation states, and 
exploration contractors authorized by the International Seabed 
Authority, LMC has contributed to collaborative efforts that have made 
substantial advancements in identifying organisms inhabiting the deep 
seabed, their abundance, distribution, diversity, and community 
structure. In addition to taxonomic classifications, these efforts have 
included genetic characterizations, which are critical to establishing 
biogeographical distinctions and connectivity in the deep seabed 
environment. This data and information, in turn, can be used for 
predictive habitat modelling. These contributions to the advancement of 
science are expected to be applicable to activities in the areas within 
the USA-1 and USA-4 licenses when Phase II activities are proposed 
there. NOAA, therefore, views these efforts as further evidence of the 
Licensee's diligence in pursuing the activities described in the 
exploration plan.
    As discussed in the exploration plan associated with the requested 
extension of USA-1 and USA-4, the Licensee continues to find that the 
market conditions and the lack of international tenure under UNCLOS 
prevent the company from moving forward with Phase II of its 
exploration plan. Nonetheless, the Licensee has demonstrated a 
commitment to retain the licenses on a legitimate presumption that the 
existing contingencies will be resolved. LMC's annual reports 
demonstrate that preparatory work for at-sea exploration is continuing 
and NOAA has determined that such efforts constitute substantial 
compliance with the USA-1 and USA-4 licenses and associated exploration 
plan. As such, extension of USA-1 and USA-4 is warranted.
    Comment: Due to the LMC's failure to adequately specify what 
activities are to occur under the individual exploration licenses, the 
applicant has failed to substantially comply with its license and 
application plan, and therefore, the extension requests should be 
denied.
    Response: NOAA disagrees. In 2012, NOAA approved a consolidated 
exploration plan for USA-1 and USA-4. The Phase I preparatory 
activities within the approved consolidated exploration plan are 
described generally and appropriately apply to both areas. Given the 
general nature of the preparatory activities under Phase I, separate 
descriptions of those activities for both license areas are not 
necessary. As described above, the Licensee has provided sufficient 
justification to determine that it has substantially complied with the 
licenses and associated exploration plan. If the Licensee proceeds to 
Phase II, activity descriptions pertaining specific areas may be 
necessary.

    Federal Domestic Assistance Catalog 11.419 Coastal Zone 
Management Program Administration.

    Dated: August 30, 2017.
Donna Rivelli,
Associate Assistant Administrator for Management and CFO/CAO, Ocean 
Services and Coastal Zone Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric 
Administration.
[FR Doc. 2017-18994 Filed 9-6-17; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-08-P