Leaders and staff members from the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the National Marine Fisheries Service have been discussing ways to streamline offshore oil and gas geologic and geophysical (G&G) permit application reviews for the last 6 months, BOEM Acting Director Walter D. Cruickshank told a House Natural Resources subcommittee.
The BOEM-led team, which also includes US Department of the Interior solicitors and US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement staff members, was assembled in response to US President Donald Trump’s Apr. 28, 2017, executive order, “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy,” Cruickshank said during the Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee’s Jan. 19 hearing to examine offshore seismic permitting problems.
“The directive in the executive order for a streamlined permitting approach is predicated on industry and other stakeholder complaints of ramifications from exceedingly long, unpredictable, and inconsistent processes for agencies to reach permitting decisions, mainly under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but also to a lesser degree under the Endangered Species Act,” Cruickshank said.
The team has developed recommendations designed to reduce undue burdens and make decision timelines more predictable while ensuring that needed environmental protections remain in place, Cruickshank said. “While these recommendations are focused on permitting for oil and gas activities, most of them benefit other ocean activities, such as construction, offshore wind facilities, sand mining, and naval operations.”
Incidental take authorizations
Cruickshank’s testimony came more than 2 weeks after the Government Accountability Office publicly issued a report, “Offshore Seismic Surveys: Additional Guidance Needed to Help Ensure Timely Reviews,” which recommended that both NMFS and FWS clarify how and when their staffs record review dates of incidental take authorization applications and how long the reviews take.
“Such guidance is necessary to maintain consistency with federal internal control standards, which call for management to use quality information to achieve agency objectives and design control activities, such as accurate and timely recording of transactions, to achieve objectives and respond to risk,” Jon Ludwigson, GAO’s Acting Natural Resources and Environment Director, told the subcommittee on Jan. 19.
Another witness, Ryan Steen, a partner in the law firm Stoel Rives LLP in Seattle who testified on behalf of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, said while the MMPA’s language was considered adequate when it was adopted in the 1970s, changes need to be made to improve the regulatory process for both the agencies and the offshore geophysical service suppliers.
He said H.R. 4239, which Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) introduced on Nov. 3, 2017, would set firm deadlines for each stage of the MMPA incidental harassment authorization approval process. “Failure to meet those deadlines would result in the approval of the requested authorization based upon the detailed information and proposed mitigation measures included in the IHA application,” Steen said. “This would…reduce delays in the processing of IHA applications. The bill retains all existing opportunities for public involvement.”
The fourth witness, South Carolina State Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), said there is strong opposition in Atlantic Coast states to allowing offshore seismic tests to be conducted. “Coastal communities and local voices have already voiced their choice,” he said. “We want to protect our water, our coast, and way of life from unacceptable and devastating impacts of seismic testing and offshore drilling. Washington needs to listen.”
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