Both the National Marine Fisheries Service
and US Fish & Wildlife Service need to
better explain how they conduct incidental
harassment authorization reviews for offshore oil and gas geologic and geophysical
surveys to meet the US Bureau of Ocean
Energy Management’s 120-day deadline,
the Government Accountability Office said
in a report issued on Jan. 4.
The agencies review applications for
the permits that cover accidental marine
mammal and fish deaths resulting from
normal offshore business operations.
GAO investigators found that NMFS,
which is part of the US Department of
Commerce’s National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, could not provide
accurate dates on when the agency
deems an application adequate and
complete, while FWS, a US Department
of the Interior agency like BOEM, does
not even record the information.
“Federal internal control standards
call for agencies to use quality information. Without guidance on how to
accurately record review dates, agencies and applicants will continue to have
uncertainty around review time frames,”
the report said.
Problems with processing incidental
harassment permit applications at NMFS
became apparent in 2016-17 when the
agency inexplicably delayed decisions on
six offshore G&G contractors’ filings for
permits on the Mid-Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf before abruptly rejecting
them toward the end of President Barack
Obama’s second term.
NMFS subsequently proposed issuing
IHAs to five offshore G&G contractors
the following June as the Trump adminis-
tration assumed power. The applications,
which the agency is supposed to process
in 120 days, have languished there for
892 days, said Nikki Martin, president of
the International Association of Geophysical Contractors in Houston, on Jan. 4.
“Seismic research is vital to unlocking energy potential off our coasts, and
federal red tape is standing in the way,”
said US House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah),
who asked GAO to conduct its investigation in March 2016. “GAO’s report
highlights the bureaucratic dysfunction,
lack of transparency, and blatant abuses
of discretion that has stalled greater
exploration and development.”
‘Flawed, arbitrary, dysfunctional’
“Today’s GAO report reveals what the
offshore energy industry has been
rightfully saying all along: The permitting
process for seismic research is flawed,
arbitrary, and dysfunctional,” said National Ocean Industries Association Pres.
Randall B. Luthi.
“Bureaucratic and intentional foot-dragging has prevented a timely and
objective appraisal of modern offshore
seismic permits, putting the exploration and development of affordable and
reliable energy that Americans rely on at
risk,” Luthi warned.
Martin, meanwhile, noted, “We urge
NMFS to implement guidance to aid
analysts and applicants to track when
applications are adequate and complete,
acknowledge [its] failure to meet existing
statutory timelines, and issue decisions
on the five pending Atlantic seismic IHA
applications without further delay.”
A troubling permitting lapse
was released. “Just like mining, not all
areas are appropriate for offshore drill-
ing, and we will take that into consid-
eration in the coming weeks.”
The draft proposed program (DPP)
includes 47 potential lease sales in 25
of the 26 planning areas– 19 off Alaska,
7 on the Pacific OCS, 12 in the Gulf
of Mexico, and 9 on the Atlantic OCS.
Inclusion of an area in the DPP does
not ensure it will be included in the
final program or offered in a lease sale
because many decision points remain,
DOI officials emphasized.
Walter D. Cruikshank, acting director at the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which will oversee
the program, said the 2017-22 program will be implemented until the
new OCS program is approved.
Oil and gas industry association officials welcomed the announcement.
“The ability to safely and respon-
sibly access and explore our resourc-
es in the Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific, and
the Eastern Gulf of Mexico is a critical
part of advancing the long-term ener-
gy security of the US,” said American
Petroleum Institute Upstream Direc-
tor Erik Milito. “It will also encourage
economic growth, spur manufacturing
and investment, create thousands of
additional US jobs, and strengthen our
Independent Petroleum Association
of America Pres. Barry Russell said:
“Expanding access to additional off-
shore reserves allows the US to better
understand where production poten-
tial exists and where capital should be
invested. Although this is just the first
step in a long process, today’s proposal
is exactly the signal industry needs to
drive this work forward.”
National Ocean Industries Associa-
tion Pres. Randall B. Luthi hailed the
start of a “truly national discussion”
about US offshore energy potential.
“To kick off a national discussion,
you need a national plan–something
that has been lacking the past several years,” he said. “President Trump