Hilcorp gets Inlet LOA
NMFS issues regs for taking marine mammals incidental to oil and gas activities
The National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has issued regulations to govern the unintentional taking of marine mammals incidental to oil and gas activities of Hilcorp Alaska LLC in Cook Inlet over the course of five years.
The ruling, signed July 22 by Samuel D. Rauch III, deputy assistant administrator for regulatory programs at NMFS “allows for the issuance of letters of authorization for the incidental take of marine mammals during the described activities and specified time frames, prescribe the permissible methods of taking and other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat, as well as requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking,” the service said.
In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act, as amended, and implementing regulations, the service gave notice that a LOA was issued to Hilcorp to take marine mammals incidental to oil and gas activities.
The authorization is effective from July 30, 2019, to July 30, 2024.
According to the MMPA, the term “take” means to harass, hunt, capture, kill or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal.
With respect to this action, 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).
NMFS finds proposed ops have negligible impact on marine mammalsHilcorp filed an application with NMFS on April 17, 2018, requesting authorization to incidentally take multiple species of marine mammals. Take will occur by Level A and Level B harassment incidental to a variety of sources including 2D and 3D seismic surveys, geohazard surveys, vibratory sheet pile driving, and drilling of exploratory wells. On Oct. 8, 2018, NMFS deemed the application adequate and complete.
“Authorization for incidental takings 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 taking for subsistence uses (where relevant),” the service said.
NMFS prepared an environmental assessment and analyzed the potential impacts to marine mammals that will result from Hilcorp’s activities, subsequently a finding of no significant impact was signed.
Hilcorp will be required to monitor the ensonified areas to detect the presence of marine mammals before beginning activities, to conduct aerial surveys to search for Cook Inlet beluga whales before beginning seismic surveys and shut down activities under certain circumstances to minimize injury of marine mammals.
The company is also required to ramp up at the beginning of seismic surveying to allow marine mammals the opportunity to leave the area prior to beginning the survey at full power. Hilcorp must also ramp up impact hammering of drive pipe for conductor pipe driven from the drill rig.
Additionally, the company must cease noise producing activities within 10 miles of the mean higher high water line of the Susitna Delta (Beluga River to the Little Susitna River) between April 15 and Oct. 15, as well as ceasing seismic activity within the Level B harassment isopleth distance of the mouth of the Kasilof River between Jan. 1 and May 31.
Scope of inlet operationsNMFS said the scope of Hilcorp’s incidental take regulations petition includes four stages of activity encompassing exploration, development, production, and decommissioning activities within its area of operations in and adjacent to Cook Inlet - lower Cook Inlet (south of the Forelands to Homer) and middle Cook Inlet (north of the Forelands to Susitna/Point Possession).
*An Anchor Point 2D seismic survey in Lower Cook Inlet - a 30-day operation with 10 days of seismic is planned to extend from Anchor Point to Kasilof within a window of April through October, in 2021 or 2022. Noise sources include one source vessel with airgun array, one node vessel, onshore and intertidal shot holes, tracked vehicles and helicopters.
*An Outer Continental Shelf 3D seismic survey in Lower Cook Inlet April through October in 2019 or 2020 would take 45 to 60 days using one source vessel with airgun array, two support vessels, and one mitigation vessel.
*A 30-day OCS geohazard survey in Lower Cook Inlet to occur April through October in 2020 or 2021 will employ one vessel with echo sounders and/or sub bottom profilers.
*Two to four exploratory wells per year in the Lower Cook Inlet OCS slated for February through November in 2020 through 2022 will take 40 to 60 days per well. Noise sources include one jack-up rig, drive pipe installation, vertical seismic profiling, two or three tugs for rig handling, support vessels and helicopters.
*Causeway construction for Iniskin Peninsula exploration and development on the west side of Lower Cook Inlet will take 180 days each year, April through October in 2020 through 2022. Noise will be generated by construction of the causeway, vibratory sheet pile driving, dredging and vessels.
*Platform and pipeline maintenance in Middle Cook Inlet will extend 180 days each year April through October in 2019 through 2024. This operation will use vessels, water jets, hydraulic grinders, pingers, helicopters and/or sub-bottom profilers.
*A North Cook Inlet Unit subsea well geohazard survey in Middle Cook Inlet is slated to occur over 14 days during April through October of 2020 using one vessel with echo sounders and/or sub bottom profilers.
*A North Cook Inlet Unit well plugging and abandonment in Middle Cook Inlet would be a 90-day operation in April through October 2020. Noise sources include a jack-up rig, tugboats, a support vessel, and helicopters.
*A Trading Bay area geohazard survey in Middle Cook Inlet, a 30-day project in April-through October 2020 will employ one vessel with echo sounders and/or sub bottom profilers.
*Trading Bay area exploratory wells in Middle Cook Inlet will take 120 to 150 days April through October 2020. Noise sources are a jack-up rig, drive pipe installation, vertical seismic profiling, tugs towing rig, support vessel and helicopters.
*A Granite Point production drilling and geohazard survey in Middle Cook Inlet will take 120 to 150 days of June through October 2019. Noise sources include a jack-up rig, tugs, support vessel, helicopters, and 1 vessel with echo sounders.
*The Drift River terminal decommissioning in Lower Cook Inlet, west side will run 120 days April through October in 2020 through 2023. Noise sources are vessels.
The geographic area of activity covers approximately 2.7 million acres in Cook Inlet, NMFS said. It includes land and adjacent waters in Cook Inlet including both state of Alaska and federal OCS waters. The area extends from the north at the Susitna Delta on the west side (61º10’48 N, 151º0’55 W) and Point Possession on the east side (61º2’11 N, 150º23’30 W) to the south at Ursus Cove on the west side (59º26’20 N, 153º45’5 W) and Nanwalek on the east side (59º24’5 N, 151º56’30 W).