Court Affirms Aspects of Permit for Apache Seismic Program in Alaska
OREANDA-NEWS. June 14, 2013. U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason ruled on a complex matter concerning one of the federal permits granted to Apache regarding its Cook Inlet seismic program. On several key points, the Court affirmed the validity of the Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA-1) issued to Apache by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
In the 79-page opinion, the judge ruled that Apache’s operations would not jeopardize in any way the continued existence of the Beluga whale or its recovery in the Cook Inlet.
Apache completed the 2012 marine seismic season with NO “Level B takes,” which are defined as events that have the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns but DO NOT have the potential to injure a marine mammal. Although the permit had authorized 30 non-lethal “Level B takes,” none occurred.
Apache worked very closely with scientists and regulators to design its Cook Inlet seismic program to minimize the impact on communities and the environment, including extensive steps to mitigate the impact of its activities on Beluga whales and other marine mammals. Apache uses a seismic source that uses compressed air, not explosives, at levels based on scientific research and regulated by the IHA.
In other key findings, the judge
Upheld the agency’s decision-making process;
Held that the agency correctly assessed the small numbers, negligible impact, and quantification analysis it was obligated to conduct;
Upheld the use of the 160db threshold level that was provided for in the IHA-1;
Upheld the agency’s determination that there would be minimal practical impact to Beluga whales under the IHA-1 permit;
Ruled that the IHA-1 permit provided an adequate “least practical impact” for conducting the requested seismic operations;
Ruled that the agency correctly took into account the impact, if any, the seismic operations would have on Alaska Native communities;
Ruled that the agency weighed and considered the best scientific data available; and
8. held that the cumulative impacts of Apache’s surveying activities did not require the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement.
The judge said NMFS incorrectly determined the number and percentage of Cook Inlet beluga whales that would be subject to Level B incidental harassment during Apache’s seismic operations and directed NMFS and NRDC to submit additional information on how to determine the number and percentage of Cook Inlet Beluga Whales that could be subject to future permits.
The court’s ruling can and presumably will be taken into account in Apache’s applications for IHAs covering future seismic acquisition in Cook Inlet.