NMFS Discusses Offshore Oil & Gas in IHA for Atlantic Seismic Survey

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently announced its issuance of an Incidental Harassment Authorization to the U.S. Geological Survey, Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and National Science Foundation to take 34 species of marine mammals by Level B harassment while conducting a 2-D seismic survey at water depths of 4,593-17,716 feet in EEZ and international waters offshore the U.S. Atlantic coast from August-September 2014 and April to August 2015.

NMFS noted comments submitted by the Natural Resources Defense Council and others expressing concern that the identification of the outer limits of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf will have implications for expanded offshore oil and gas development in the Atlantic (and calling for a cumulative impact assessment that reflects that the survey’s underlying purpose may be to increase the area of the Mid-Atlantic that is open to oil and gas activity).

In response, NMFS states that the authorized survey is independent of oil and gas exploration, which is regulated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.  It further notes that the Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) can only be designated for conservation, management, and resource exploitation after it has been delineated, adding that the area could potentially be developed outside the U.S. regulatory framework unless it is delineated as part of the U.S.  NMFS calls the Atlantic margin “a priority” for the ECS project, which it notes has been in the planning stages since 2007.

Furthermore, BOEM notes that the recently-completed Atlantic seismic programmatic environmental review already covers waters extending to 350 nautical miles beyond the baselines of the U.S., which is the furthest distance that could be used to delineate the U.S. ECS.