The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has announced the availability of a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) that recommends strong measures to protect marine mammals and coastal environments in the Gulf of Mexico from the potential impacts of geological and geophysical (G&G) surveys for oil, gas and minerals.
Completion of the draft PEIS was a condition of a federal court settlement between BOEM and the National Resource Defense Council and other co-plaintiffs announced earlier this year.
“BOEM’s recommended approach offers the strongest practicable safeguards in an effort to eliminate or reduce impacts to marine mammals and the environment,” said BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper. “We continue to conduct research and monitor the science of this field and work with other agencies and stakeholders to create and maintain the protection of these resources.”
The draft PEIS evaluates the potential environmental impacts of G&G survey activities on marine mammals, fish, corals, and other environmentally sensitive species in the seabed and water column of the Gulf’s Outer Continental Shelf. The surveys will inform oil and gas exploration and sand extraction in Federal and adjacent state waters. G&G surveys use various technologies to determine whether areas have high potential for energy development or extraction of minerals, such as sand used for coastal restoration; and to identify potential hazards and environmental concerns.
The G&G activities assessed in the draft PEIS include deep-penetration and high-resolution seismic surveys, electromagnetic surveys, magnetic surveys, gravity surveys, remote-sensing surveys and geological and geochemical sampling.
Among the mitigations BOEM has recommended in its preferred alternative are: requiring protected species observers on each boat, mandatory vessel avoidance of marine mammals and start up/shut down rules that apply if/when marine mammals are observed in the area.
BOEM is the lead agency on this draft PEIS, with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) as cooperating agencies. The PEIS will support both BOEM’s G&G permitting and NMFS’s Marine Mammal Protection Act decision-making for oil- and gas-related G&G. The target date for completing the PEIS is September 2017. The proposed project area evaluated BOEM's Western, Central, and Eastern GOM Planning Areas as well as adjacent State waters.
The G&G activities provide information about the location and extent of oil and gas resources, bottom conditions for oil and gas, and suitable locations of sand and gravel used for coastal protection and restoration. State-of-the-practice G&G data and information are required for business decisions in furtherance of exploring for and developing offshore OCS oil and gas resources, assessing sites for offshore renewable energy, and locating marine mineral resources. The draft PEIS will be open for public comment for 60 days, following publication of the Notice of Availability in the Federal Register on September 30, 2016, and BOEM will hold five public meetings in the Gulf area to solicit input and answer questions.
BOEM will conduct the following public meetings to solicit input on the Draft PEIS:
New Orleans, Louisiana: Wednesday, November 9, 2016, Wyndham Garden New Orleans Airport, 6401 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, Louisiana 70003; one meeting beginning at 4:00 p.m. CST and ending at 7:00 p.m. CST
Gulfport, Mississippi: Thursday, November 10, 2016, Courtyard by Marriott, Gulfport Beachfront MS Hotel, 1600 East Beach Boulevard, Gulfport, Mississippi 39501; one meeting beginning at 4:00 p.m. CST and ending at 7:00 p.m. CST;
Fort Walton Beach, Florida: Monday, November 14, 2016, Four Points By Sheraton Destin-Fort Walton Beach, 1325 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, Fort Walton Beach, Florida 32548; one meeting beginning at 4:00 p.m. CST and ending at 7:00 p.m. CST;
Mobile, Alabama: Tuesday, November 15, 2016, The Admiral Hotel Mobile, Curio Collection by Hilton, 251 Government Street, Mobile, Alabama 36602; one meeting beginning at 4:00 p.m. CST and ending at 7:00 p.m. CST; and
Houston, Texas:Thursday, November 17, 2016, Houston Marriott North, 255 North Sam Houston Pkwy East, Houston, Texas 77060; one meeting beginning at 4:00 p.m. CST and ending at 7:00 p.m. CST.
BOEM prepared the PEIS pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The public meetings are a part of the NEPA process, which encourages Federal, State, and local government agencies, as well as other interested parties, to assist BOEM and the cooperating agencies in determining significant issues and alternatives for analysis.
Comments received will help BOEM and the cooperating agencies further refine the analysis of the draft PEIS for publication of the Final PEIS.
In addition to attending the meetings, comments may also be submitted in the following ways:
Mail or hand deliver in an envelope labeled “Scoping Comments on the Gulf of Mexico G&G PEIS,” Attention: Dr. Jill Lewandowski, Chief, Division of Environmental Assessment, Office of Environmental Programs, BOEM, 45600 Woodland Road, VAM-OEP, Sterling Virginia 20166.
Through the regulations.gov web portal, search for “Geological and Geophysical Exploration Activities on Federal and State Waters of the Gulf of Mexico” (include the quotation marks in your search terms). Click on the “Comment Now!” button and enter your comment, then click “Submit”; or
Through email to: [email protected].
A Notice of Availability (NOA) will be announced in the Federal Register later this week but the draft PEIS is available now. Comments on the PEIS should be received within 60 days of the date the NOA publishes in the Federal Register and specifically address factors related to the impact analysis.