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October 21, 2016 --- Vol. 22, No. 38October 2016

NMFS issues final EIS for Arctic oil exploration

The National Marine Fisheries Service has issued a final environmental impact statement for offshore seismic surveying and exploration drilling in Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas. The FEIS sets the ground rules for the issue of marine mammal incidental harassment authorizations for exploration activities. Under the FEIS, NMFS has opted to limit exploration drilling to one drilling program per year in each of the seas. The final EIS allows up to three seismic surveys per year in the Chukchi Sea and up to four surveys in the Beaufort. In each sea, up to three site clearance and shallow hazard surveys will be allowed annually. And in the Beaufort Sea a single on-ice seismic program will be allowed each year.

A drilling program is defined as exploration drilling conducted by a single operator using a single drilling unit such as a drillship.

Companies operating in the offshore require incidental harassment authorizations to avoid violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act, if wildlife is disturbed as a result of industrial activities. The FEIS aims to use a programmatic approach to the issue of authorizations, rather than have the Fisheries Service set rules individually for each proposed exploration activity. The idea is to limit the cumulative impacts of multiple operations.

The Fisheries Service issued a draft version of the EIS for comment in 2013. In the final version of the document the agency has opted for an alternative which limits drilling to one program per year but does not mandate the timed closure of certain environmentally sensitive areas.

- ALAN BAILEY

See story in Oct. 30 issue of Petroleum News, available online Friday, Oct. 28, at www.PetroleumNews.com

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