In an order issued yesterday the federal District Court in Alaska has in part upheld an appeal by three environmental organizations and a Native tribal organization against the incidental harassment authorization, or IHA, that the National Marine Fisheries Service issued for Apache Alaska Corp.’s offshore seismic survey, conducted in 2012 in Cook Inlet.
Given that the IHA in question has already expired, District Court Judge Sharon Gleason has given the parties in the case 21 days to either jointly or separately propose what action should result from the court decision. In February the Fisheries Service issued a new amended IHA for Apache’s planned Cook Inlet seismic in 2013.
IHAs allow companies to conduct offshore operations without infringing the Marine Mammals Protection Act as a result of the minor, accidental disturbance of marine mammals. An authorization spells out mitigation measures that a company must take to minimize wildlife disturbance.
Of particular sensitivity in Cook Inlet is the potential disturbance of beluga whales, animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.
In her court order Judge Gleason said that although the Fisheries Service had used an appropriate sound criterion for determining when Apache’s seismic operations might cause an “incidental take” of beluga whales, the agency had failed to correctly estimate the number and percentage of whales that the operations would impact.