Applications for approvals for marine seismic surveys are still taking far too long, say industry bodies in the US.
Bureaucratic foot-dragging continues to prevent timely and objective appraisals of offshore seismic permits, putting exploration and development at risk, according to the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) and International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC).
Companies wishing to conduct them are required to submit Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) applications for seismic surveys on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
“The MMPA requires the agencies to make decisions on IHA applications within 120 days, yet it is now 1,000 days (since some were submitted), and final decisions on the IHAs and BOEM’s geophysical permits are still pending,” said IAGC president Nikki Martin.
“This inexplicable delay represents a complete bureaucratic breakdown by federal agencies in what should be an otherwise straightforward process.
“Blowing past its 120-day statutory deadline by 880 days and counting, NOAA Fisheries confirms the Government Accountability Office’s January report documenting the agency’s derelictions, finding numerous and unjustifiable administrative failures that have contributed to the current quagmire surrounding the authorisation of seismic surveys in the Atlantic OCS.”
“The BOEM and NOAA Fisheries have stated time and time again over the years and throughout changing political administrations that there has been ‘no documented scientific evidence of noise from acoustic sources used in seismic activities adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities.'
“The geophysical and exploration industries have routinely applied for and obtained MMPA authorisations in other regions, yet it has taken nearly four years to process authorisations for proposed seismic surveys in the Atlantic OCS.
“It is clear that the MMPA, as it stands today, is not equipped to meet the needs of the 21st century nor does it provide assurance of agency accountability regarding statutory timelines and processes that are predictable and unbiased. This is why the IAGC and NOIA fully support the passage of the SEA Act (HR 3133) and the SECURE Act (HR 4239) to modernise the MMPA,” said Ms Martin.
NOIA president Randall Luthi said “The legislation before the US House will accomplish what is a reasonable expectation of a federal regulatory programme: transparent standards based on the best available science, efficient processes, elimination of redundancy and agency accountability of firm timelines adhering to current statute.
“These bills would provide clear direction and reasonable timelines to the agencies and regulated entities for processing MMPA authorisation requests for seismic surveys, and other offshore activities such as marine research programmes, infrastructure projects, and coastal restoration efforts.”
The IAGC and NOIA have called upon NOAA Fisheries to acknowledge its failure to meet existing statutory timelines and issue decisions on the five pending Atlantic seismic IHA applications without further delay.