[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 168 (Friday, August 29, 2014)]
[Pages 51584-51600]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-20618]

[[Page 51584]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[Docket No. FWS-R7-ES-2014-0031;FF07CAMM00-FX-FR133707SEA00]

Marine Mammals; Incidental Take During Specified Activities; 
Proposed Incidental Harassment Authorization

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of receipt of application and proposed incidental 
harassment authorization; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), have 
received applications from Apache Alaska Corporation (Apache), 
SAExploration, Inc., LLC (SAE), and BlueCrest Energy, Inc. (BlueCrest), 
formerly Buccaneer Alaska Operations, LLC, for authorization under the 
Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA), as amended, to take small 
numbers of northern sea otters from the Southcentral stock by 
harassment incidental to proposed oil and gas exploration activities in 
Cook Inlet, Alaska. In accordance with provisions of the MMPA, we 
request comments on our proposed authorization for the applicant to 
incidentally take, by harassment, small numbers of northern sea otters 
from the Southcentral stock for a period of 1 year. We anticipate no 
take by injury or death and include none in this proposed 
authorization, which would be for take by harassment only.

DATES: Comments and information must be received by September 29, 2014.

ADDRESSES: Document availability: The incidental harassment 
authorization applications, associated environmental assessments, and 
supporting documentation, such as Literature Cited, are available for 
viewing at http://www.fws.gov/alaska/fisheries/mmm/iha.htm or at 
www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-R7-ES-2014-0031.
    Comment submission: You may submit comments on the proposed 
Incidental Harassment Authorization and associated environmental 
assessments by one of the following methods:
     U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, 
ATTN: FWS-R7-ES-2014-0031, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, 
MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803; or
     Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. 
Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. FWS-R7-
    Please indicate to which document, the proposed Incidental 
Harassment Authorization, or the environmental assessments, your 
comments apply. We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any 
personal information you provide us (see the Request for Public 
Comments section below for more information).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: To request copies of the application, 
the list of references used in the notice, and other supporting 
materials, contact Craig Perham, 1-800-362-5148; Marine Mammals 
Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1011 East Tudor Road, 
Anchorage, AK 99503; or by email at craigperham@fws.gov.



    Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA, as amended (16 U.S.C. 
1371 (a)(5)(A) and (D)), authorize the Secretary of the Interior to 
allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of 
small numbers of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a 
specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified 
geographical region, provided that we make certain findings and either 
issue regulations or, if the taking is limited to harassment, provide a 
notice of a proposed authorization to the public for review and 
    We may grant authorization to incidentally take marine mammals if 
we find that the taking will have a negligible impact on small numbers 
of the species or stock(s), and will not have an unmitigable adverse 
impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence 
uses. As part of the authorization process, we prescribe permissible 
methods of taking, and other means of effecting the least practicable 
impact on the species or stock and its habitat, and requirements 
pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such takings.
    The term ``take,'' as defined by the MMPA, means to harass, hunt, 
capture, or kill, or to attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any 
marine mammal. Harassment, as defined by the MMPA, means ``any act of 
pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a 
marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [the MMPA calls this 
Level A harassment], or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine 
mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of 
behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, 
breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [the MMPA calls 
this Level B harassment].''
    The terms ``small numbers,'' ``negligible impact,'' and 
``unmitigable adverse impact'' are defined in 50 CFR 18.27, the 
Service's regulations governing take of small numbers of marine mammals 
incidental to specified activities. ``Small numbers'' is defined as ``a 
portion of a marine mammal species or stock whose taking would have a 
negligible impact on that species or stock.'' However, we do not rely 
on that definition here, as it conflates the terms ``small numbers'' 
and ``negligible impact,'' which we recognize as two separate and 
distinct requirements. Instead, in our small numbers determination, we 
evaluate whether the number of marine mammals likely to be taken is 
small relative to the size of the overall population. ``Negligible 
impact'' is defined as ``an impact resulting from the specified 
activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably 
likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on 
annual rates of recruitment or survival.'' ``Unmitigable adverse 
impact'' is defined as ``an impact resulting from the specified 
activity (1) that is likely to reduce the availability of the species 
to a level insufficient for a harvest to meet subsistence needs by (i) 
causing the marine mammals to abandon or avoid hunting areas, (ii) 
directly displacing subsistence users, or (iii) placing physical 
barriers between the marine mammals and the subsistence hunters; and 
(2) that cannot be sufficiently mitigated by other measures to increase 
the availability of marine mammals to allow subsistence needs to be 
    Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA establishes an expedited process 
by which citizens of the United States can apply for an authorization 
to incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals where the take 
will be limited to harassment. Section 101(a)(5)(D)(iii) establishes a 
45-day time limit for Service review of an application, followed by a 
30-day public notice and comment period on any proposed authorizations 
for the incidental harassment of marine mammals. Within 45 days of the 
close of the comment period, we must either issue or deny issuance of 
the authorization. We refer to these authorizations as Incidental 
Harassment Authorizations (IHAs).
    The Service has issued IHAs for sea otters in the past. These 
include: three IHAs incidental to airport construction on Akun Island 
and hovercraft operation between Akun Island and Akutan, Alaska (August 
27, 2008 [73 FR 50634]; June 8, 2010 [75 FR 32497];

[[Page 51585]]

April 1, 2011 [76 FR 18232]); and one IHA incidental to construction 
activities associated with a tidal wetlands restoration project on the 
Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Monterey County, 
CA (July 20, 2010 [75 FR 42121].

Summary of Requests

Apache Corporation

    On April 15, 2014, the Service received an application from Apache 
Corporation (Apache) to take, by harassment, northern sea otters from 
the Southcentral stock (Enhydra lutris kenyoni; hereafter referred to 
as sea otter) incidental to a three-dimensional (3D) nodal or ocean-
bottom node seismic survey program in State waters of lower Cook Inlet, 
Alaska. Apache plans to conduct the seismic surveys, south of 
Ninilchik, starting in mid-October 2014 during open water periods at 
slack tides. The proposed seismic surveys would take place on Apache's 
leases, which encompass approximately 4,882 square kilometers (km) 
(1,885 square miles (mi)) in water depths of 0 to 128 meters (m) (0 to 
420 feet (ft)) of onshore, transition (intertidal), and offshore zones 
(Figure 1). These areas are identified in Apache's application as Area 

SAExploration, Inc.

    On October 28, 2013, the Service received an application from 
SAExploration, Inc. (SAE) for the taking, by harassment, of sea otters 
from the Southcentral stock incidental to a 3D nodal or ocean-bottom 
node seismic survey program in State and Federal waters in lower Cook 
Inlet starting on December 1, 2014. The surveys will conclude before 
the IHA expires. The proposed seismic survey would occur in the marine 
waters of both upper and lower Cook Inlet. The survey area is divided 
into two units: (1) Upper Cook Inlet, an area of 2,126 square km (821 
square mi) beginning at Point Possession, to a line approximately 10 km 
(6 mi) south of both the West Foreland and East Foreland; and (2) lower 
Cook Inlet, a 1,808-square-km (698-square-mi) area beginning east of 
Kalgin Island and running along the east side of lower Cook Inlet to 
Anchor Point. We focused on the lower Cook Inlet area because sea 
otters do not occur in upper Cook Inlet (Figure 1).


    On April 15, 2014, Buccaneer/BlueCrest Alaska Operations, LLC 
(BlueCrest) submitted an IHA application to the Service requesting take 
of small numbers of sea otters from the Southcentral stock during the 
Cosmopolitan exploratory drilling program in lower Cook Inlet during 
the November 1, 2014, through October 31, 2015, period. These two well 
locations (Cosmopolitan State 1 and Cosmopolitan State 
2; Figure 1) are within the State of Alaska Division of Land 
Oil and Gas Lease 384403.
    These applications are available as specified above in ADDRESSES.
    Prior to issuing IHAs in response to these three requests, we must 
evaluate the level of industrial activities described in the 
applications, their associated potential impacts to sea otters, and 
their effects on the availability of this species for subsistence use. 
The information provided by the applicants indicates that oil and gas 
activities projected over the next year will encompass onshore and 
offshore exploration activities. The Service is tasked with analyzing 
the impact that lawful industrial activities will have on sea otters 
during normal operating procedures.

Description of the Specified Activities

Apache Corporation

    Apache will perform the proposed seismic survey operations from 
multiple vessels starting in mid-October 2014. Two source vessels will 
be used, both equipped with compressors and 2,400-cubic-inch airgun 
arrays. One source vessel also will be equipped with a 440-cubic-inch 
shallow-water airgun array, which can be deployed at high tide in the 
intertidal area in less than 1.8 m (5.9 ft) of water. Three shallow 
draft vessels and one mitigation vessel will support cable/nodal 
deployment and retrieval operations. One vessel will house and recharge 
the receiver nodes, and two smaller jet boats will be used for 
personnel transport and node support in the extremely shallow water of 
the intertidal area. For additional information, such as vessel 
specifications, see Apache's application (http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/itr.htm).
    Apache anticipates conducting in-water survey operations 24 hours 
per day. During each 24-hour period, seismic operations will be active; 
however, in-water airgun activity can occur only during slack tides 
because of the strong currents. In general, there are four slack tides 
in a 24-hour period and airguns can typically operate for 2-3 hours 
around each slack tide, yielding a maximum of 8-12 hours of airgun 
operations in a given day.
    The 2,400-cubic-inch airgun arrays and the 440-cubic-inch airgun 
array will be used to obtain geological data during the survey. The 
acoustic source level of the 2,400-cubic-inch airgun array was 
predicted using an airgun array source model developed by JASCO Applied 
Sciences. The 190, 180, and 160 dBrms re 1 [mu]Pa (standard 
industry reference for sound pressure levels) isopleths were estimated 
at three different water depths (5 m, 25 m, and 45 m; 16.4 ft, 82 ft, 
147.6 ft) for nearshore surveys and at 80 m (262.5 ft) for channel 
surveys. The distances to these thresholds for the nearshore survey 
locations are provided in Table 1 and correspond to the three transects 
modeled at each site in the onshore, nearshore, and parallel-to-shore 

   Table 1--Distances to Sound Thresholds for Nearshore Surveys for the 2014 Apache Seismic Survey, Lower Cook
                                                  Inlet, Alaska
                                                                                                    Distance in
                                                  Water depth at    Distance in     Distance in    the parallel-
   Sound level threshold  (dB re 1 [micro]Pa)         source        the onshore    the offshore      to-shore
                                                   location  (m)     direction       direction       direction
                                                                       (km)            (km)            (km)
160.............................................               5            0.85            3.91            1.48
                                                              25            4.70            6.41            6.34
                                                              45            5.57            4.91            6.10
190.............................................               5            0.28            0.33            0.33
                                                              25            0.35            0.36            0.44
                                                              45            0.10            0.10            0.51

[[Page 51586]]

    An acoustical positioning (or pinger) system will be used to 
determine the geo-referenced positions of the nodes after they have 
been placed on the seafloor. One device, the Scout Ultra-Short Baseline 
Transceiver, operates at frequencies of 33-55 kilohertz (kHz) at a 
maximum source level of 188 dB re 1 [mu]Pa at 1 m. The other device, an 
LR Ultra-Short Baseline Transponder, operates at frequencies of 35-50 
kHz at a source level of 185 dB re 1 [mu]Pa at 1 m. With respect to 
these two sound sources, the Service will rely on the distance to the 
Level B harassment threshold for sea otters estimated for the higher 
sound pressure level of the two devices as provided by Apache. 
Therefore, assuming a simple spreading loss of 20 log R (where R is 
radius) with a source level of 188 dB, the distances to the 190 and 160 
dB isopleths would be 1 m and 25 m (3.2 ft and 82 ft), respectively. 
Another technique for locating the nodes in deeper water is called 
Ocean Bottom Receiver Location, which uses a small volume airgun (10 
cubic inches) firing parallel to the node line.
    Apache will also conduct seismic survey activities in onshore and 
intertidal areas that will be surveyed using nodal technology and 
explosives as the sound source. To access the onshore drill sites, 
Apache will use a combination of helicopter portable and tracked 
vehicle drills. In September 2011, Apache conducted sound source 
verification to characterize the underwater received sound levels 
resulting from land-based explosives. Shot locations for the land-based 
explosives were acoustically monitored to determine if underwater 
received sound levels exceeded the harassment threshold of 160 dB re 1 
[mu]Pa. Received levels detected by the real-time vessel-based data 
logging systems located 3 km (1.86 mi) from the nearest shot hole were 
well below the harassment threshold criterion of 160 dB re 1 Pa rms. A 
detailed description of the proposed seismic survey activities in 
onshore and intertidal areas can be found in Apache's Environmental 
Assessment (EA).

SAExploration, Inc.

    SAExploration plans to conduct 3D nodal or ocean-bottom node 
seismic surveys in State and Federal waters within both upper and lower 
Cook Inlet. The seismic acquisition in the lower Cook Inlet unit would 
initially begin in December 2014, and start in the northern half of 
their action area to avoid encounters with summering marine mammals 
near Anchor Point. Completing this work in the lower Cook Inlet unit is 
estimated to take 60 to 80 days.
    Two source vessels will be used with multiple jet-driven shallow 
draft vessels for deployment and retrieval of offshore recording 
equipment. There will also be a housing vessel with a crew transfer and 
mitigation vessels (see SAE's EA for more details regarding 
specifications of these vessels). The components of the project include 
laying nodal recording sensors (nodes) on the ocean floor, operating 
seismic source vessels towing active airgun arrays, and retrieval of 
    SAExploration's seismic surveys will primarily utilize a 1,760-
cubic-inch sleeve airgun array, although 440- or 880-cubic-inch arrays 
may be used in shallow water locations. The configuration of each array 
is outlined in SAE's application (http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/itr.htm). The arrays will be centered approximately 15 m (50 ft) behind 
the source vessel, at a depth of 4 m (12 ft), and towed along 
predetermined source lines at speeds between 7.4 and 9.3 km per hour (4 
and 5 knots). SAE proposes to operate two vessels with full arrays, 
operating simultaneously in an alternating shot mode; one vessel 
shooting while the other is recharging. Shot intervals are expected to 
be about 8 to 10 seconds for each array, resulting in an overall shot 
interval of 4 to 5 seconds, considering the two simultaneous arrays. 
Actual daily shooting will be confined to 2 to 3 hours at each slack 
tide occurring during daylight hours, or about 8 to 10 hours at most in 
a given day. Based on the manufacturer's specifications, the 1,760-
cubic-inch array has a peak-to-peak estimated sound source of 254.55 dB 
re 1 [mu]Pa at1 m.
    SAExploration's marine seismic operations will be based on a 
``recording patch'' or similar approach. Patches will contain groups of 
6 receiver lines and 32 source lines. Each receiver line has 
submersible marine nodes tethered equidistant (50 m; 165 ft) from each 
other along the length of the line. Each node will contain three 
velocity sensors and a hydrophone. The receiver lines will be 
approximately 8 km (5 mi) in length, and spaced approximately 402 m 
(1,320 ft) apart. Each receiver patch will cover approximately 19.4 
square km (7.5 square mi) in area. The receiver patches will be 
oriented such that the receiver lines run parallel to the shoreline.
    Source lines, 12 km (7.5 mi) long and spaced 502 m (1,650 ft) 
apart, will run perpendicular to the receiver lines and, where 
possible, will extend approximately 5 km (3 mi) beyond the outside 
receiver lines and approximately 4 km (2.5 mi) beyond each of the ends 
of the receiver lines. The outside dimensions of the maximum shot area 
during a patch shoot will be 12 km by 16 km (7.5 mi by 10 mi) and all 
shot areas will be wholly contained within the 1,808-square-km (698-
square-mi) survey box. Shot intervals along each source line will be 50 
m (165 ft).
    It may take a period of 3 to 5 days to deploy, shoot, and record a 
single receiver patch. During recording of one patch, nodes from the 
previously surveyed patch will be retrieved, recharged, and data 
downloaded prior to redeployment of the nodes to the next patch. As 
patches are recorded, receiver lines are moved side to side or end to 
end to the next patch.
    Autonomous recording nodes lack cables but will be tethered 
together using thin rope for ease of retrieval. This rope and nodes 
will lay on the seabed surface. A GPS will be attached to the airgun 
array for the primary vessel positioning. Nodes will be positioned 
using pingers deployed from the node vessels. Patch geometry may be 
modified during operations to improve sampling and operational 
    As mentioned above, an acoustical positioning (or pinger) system 
will be used to position the nodes. A vessel-mounted transceiver 
calculates the position of the nodes by measuring the range and bearing 
from the transceiver to a small acoustic transponder fitted to every 
third node. The transceiver uses sonar to interrogate the transponders, 
which respond with short pulses that are used in measuring the range 
and bearing. The system provides a precise location of every node as 
needed for accurate interpretation of the seismic data. The transceiver 
to be used is the Sonardyne Scout USBL, while transponders will be the 
Sonardyne TZ/OBC Type 7815-000-06. Because the transceiver and 
transponder communicate via sonar, they produce underwater sound 
levels. The Scout USBL transceiver has a transmission source level of 
197 dB re 1 [mu]Pa at 1 m and operates at frequencies between 35 and 55 
kHz. The transponder produces short pulses of 184 to 187 dB re 1 [mu]Pa 
at 1 m at frequencies also between 35 and 55 kHz.

BlueCrest Alaska Operations, LLC

    BlueCrest proposes to conduct exploratory and delineation drilling 
operations at two well locations in the Cosmopolitan Unit in Cook Inlet 
during the 2014 summer drilling season until October 31, 2014. These 
plans include exploratory gas-only drilling operations at Cosmopolitan 
State 2, possible

[[Page 51587]]

delineation well drilling at either Cosmopolitan State 1 or 
2, and possible deeper drilling for oil at either well 
depending on permitting schedules.
    Cosmopolitan 1 is located just off Cape Starichkof about 
12.9 km (8 mi) north of Anchor Point (59[deg]53'12.87'' N/-
151[deg]52'57.71'' W; Figure 1) in approximately 24 m (78 ft) of water 
at 4.8 km (3 mi) from shore. Cosmopolitan 2 is located 11.3 km 
(7 mi) north of Anchor Point (59[deg]52'17.37'' N/-151[deg]51'55.09'' 
W; Figure 1) in about 16.5 m (54 ft) of water at 3.2 km (2 mi) from 
shore. BlueCrest's project area also includes two routes between the 
Port of Homer and Cosmopolitan.
Drill Rig
    BlueCrest will conduct its exploratory drilling using the 
Endeavour, an independent leg, cantilevered jack-up drill rig of the 
Marathon LeTourneau Class 116-C that is capable of drilling to 7,620 m 
(25,000 ft) in water depths from 4.6 to 91 m (15 to 300 ft).
    The Endeavour will be mobilized from Port Graham, Alaska, to the 
Cosmopolitan State 2 well site, a distance of about 50 km (31 
mi), for drilling operations. Cosmopolitan 2 and 1 
are located 1.6 km (1.0 mi) apart, and any subsequent moves between the 
two sites will be limited. The rig will be towed between locations by 
ocean-going tugs. Rig moves will be conducted in a manner to minimize 
any potential risk regarding safety as well as cultural or 
environmental impact.
Rig Support
    Helicopters (twin turbine Bell 212 or equivalent) will be used to 
transport personnel, groceries, and supplies to and from the rig. The 
helicopter will be based at the Kenai Airport to support rig crew 
changes and cargo handling. Fueling will take place at these 
facilities. No helicopter refueling will take place on the rig.
    Helicopter flights to and from the rig are expected to average two 
per day. Flight routes will follow a direct route to and from the rig 
location, and flight heights will be maintained 300 to 450 m (1,000 to 
1,500 ft) above ground level to avoid harassment of marine mammals 
(Richardson et al. 1995). The helicopter will be dedicated to the 
drilling operation and will be available for service 24 hours per day. 
A replacement helicopter will be available when major maintenance items 
are scheduled. Supplies (fuel, drilling water, mud materials, cement, 
casing, and well service equipment) will be staged onshore at the 
Offshore Systems Dock. Required supplies and equipment will be moved 
from the staging area by contracted supply vessels and loaded aboard 
the rig when the rig is established on a drilling location.
    Rig equipment will use diesel fuel or electricity. Personnel 
associated with fuel delivery, transfer, and handling will be 
knowledgeable of Industry Best Management Practices related to fuel 
transfer and handling, drum labeling, secondary containment guidelines, 
and the use of liners/drip trays. The jack-up rig will take on a 
maximum fuel load prior to operations to reduce fuel transfers during 
drilling. Commercial tank farms in the Nikiski or Kenai area will 
supply fuel transported by barge as needed. The rig barge master will 
be in charge of refueling and fluid transfers between the rig and fuel 
barge, and subsequent transfers between tanks on the rig.
Drilling Program and Well Operations
    BlueCrest proposes to drill at each well to bottom-hole depths of 
approximately 2,100 to 4,900 m (7,000 to 16,000 ft). Drilling will take 
approximately 30 to 75 days per well. Well testing will take another 7 
to 15 days per well. When planned operations are completed, the wells 
will be plugged and abandoned according to Alaska Oil and Gas 
Conservation Commission regulations.
Blowout Prevention Program and Equipment
    All operating procedures on the rig, whether automated or 
controlled by company or contractor personnel, are specifically 
designed to prevent a loss of well control. The primary method of well 
control utilizes the hydrostatic pressure exerted by a column of 
drilling mud of sufficient density to prevent an undesired flow of 
formation fluid into the well bore. In the unlikely event that primary 
control is lost, surface blowout prevention equipment would be used for 
secondary control. BlueCrest will use a 5,000-pounds-of-pressure-per-
square-inch (psi) blowout prevention stack for shallow wells, and a 
10,000- or 15,000-psi blowout prevention stack for drilling deeper 
wells in higher pressure formations known to exist in Cook Inlet.
Drilling Fluids and Cuttings
    Drilling wastes include drilling fluids, known as mud, rock 
cuttings, and formation waters. Drilling wastes (non-hydrocarbon) will 
be discharged into the waters of Cook Inlet under the approved Alaska 
Pollution Discharge Elimination System (APDES) general permit. 
Hydrocarbon drilling wastes will be delivered to an onshore permitted 
location for disposal. BlueCrest will follow best management practices 
to ensure that a sufficient inventory of barite and lost circulation 
materials are maintained on the drilling vessel to minimize the 
possibility of a well upset and the likelihood of a release of 
pollutants to Cook Inlet waters. In accordance with the APDES general 
permit for discharges of drilling muds and cuttings, BlueCrest will 
conduct an Environmental Monitoring Study of relevant hydrographic, 
sediment hydrocarbon, and heavy metal data before, during, and at least 
1 year after drilling operations cease.
    Non-drilling wastewater will also be discharged into Cook Inlet or 
delivered to an onshore permitted location for disposal per the 
approved APDES general permit. Non-drilling wastewater includes deck 
drainage, sanitary waste, domestic waste, blowout preventer fluid, 
boiler blowdown, fire control test water, bilge water, non-contact 
cooling water, and uncontaminated ballast water.
    Solid waste (e.g., packaging, domestic trash) will be classified, 
segregated, and labeled as general, universal, and Resource 
Conservation and Recovery Act exempt or nonexempt waste. It will be 
stored in containers at designated accumulation areas until it is 
packaged and palletized for transport to an approved onshore disposal 
facility. No hazardous wastes should be generated as a result of this 
project. However, if any hazardous wastes are generated, they would be 
temporarily stored in an onboard satellite accumulation area and then 
transported offsite for disposal at an approved facility.

Dates and Duration of Proposed Activity and Specific Geographical 

    Apache plans to conduct seismic surveys south of Ninilchik from 
approximately the middle of October 2014 through March or April 2015, 
during open water periods at slack tides.
    SAExploration, Inc.'s seismic surveys in lower Cook Inlet will 
begin in December 2014 and start in the northern half of their action 
area to avoid encounters with summering marine mammals near Anchor 
Point. Completing this work in the lower Cook Inlet is estimated to 
take 60 to 80 days.
    BlueCrest's exploratory drilling at Cosmopolitan State 2 
(north of Anchor Point) is expected to begin in November 2014 and 
conclude in October 2015.

Distribution, Abundance, and Use of Sea Otters in the Area of Specified 

    Lower Cook Inlet is within the range of the Southcentral stock of 
the northern

[[Page 51588]]

sea otter (Figure 2). The estimated abundance of the Southcentral sea 
otter stock is approximately 18,000 sea otters. Approximately 6,900 
otters from this stock are presumed to use Cook Inlet (USFWS 2014). The 
approximate range of sea otters within the proposed area of specified 
activity extends from Ninilchik along the eastern side of Cook Inlet to 
the southeastern edge of the area near Anchor Point. Sea otters are 
found within all water depths and distances from shore in the proposed 
project areas in lower Cook Inlet. During Kenai Peninsula and Lower 
Cook Inlet sea otter aerial surveys, Bodkin et al. (2003) found that 
sea otters predominantly use the nearshore areas (>= 40 m; 131.2 ft) 
due to increased foraging opportunities (Riedman and Estes 1990; 
Schneider 1976). However, in waters of Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay 
further from the nearshore area, numerous otters have been observed 
rafting together transiting through the area (BlueCrest 2013; Schneider 
1976). Sea otters do not regularly occur within the upper Cook Inlet; 
thus, this area is not addressed in these proposed IHAs.
    Within their range, sea otters do not use intertidal areas when 
void of open water and onshore use is extremely limited. The survey 
activities that will be conducted in the intertidal areas will occur 
only when those areas contain residual water (i.e., slack tide) and 
thus the Service has determined that the onshore and intertidal 
portions of Apache's and SAE's seismic surveys will not likely interact 
with, or impact, northern sea otters. Therefore, those seismic 
activities and related operations are not addressed in these proposed 
    Biological Information for the Southcentral stock of northern sea 
otters can be found in the Service's Stock Assessment Report (USFWS 
2014) (http://www.fws.gov/alaska/fisheries/mmm/seaotters/reports.htm).

Potential Impacts of the Activities on Sea Otters

    Understanding of the effects of sound from oil and gas exploration 
and drilling activities (i.e., seismic, drilling, pile driving) on sea 
otters is important for the health of sea otters and the development of 
parameters by which sea otter takes can be established and monitored. 
The three proposed actions from Apache, SAE, and BlueCrest have the 
potential to disturb sea otters, particularly in protected waters in 
nearshore habitats, which are used for resting, pup rearing, and 
    Acoustic noise disturbance from underwater sound sources will be 
the primary concern for sea otters. For Apache and SAE, the main 
acoustic source of disturbance will be the airguns that will be 
deployed from the source vessels. Other underwater sound sources 
associated with the seismic surveys that could impact sea otters 
include the pingers and transponders associated with positioning and 
locating receiver nodes, and propeller noise from the vessel fleet. For 
BlueCrest, airborne sound sources include rig towing, noise generated 
from routine rig activities, and periodic air traffic. Routine boat 
traffic noise produced by all operators will also generate airborne 
sound. The Service believes that airborne sound sources will not exceed 
160 dB (Level B harassment) and will not affect sea otters (Richardson 
1995). Adherence to specified operating conditions for vessels and 
aircraft will ensure that these airborne sound sources do not take sea 
    When disturbed by noise, otters may respond behaviorally (e.g., 
escape response) or physiologically (e.g., increased heart rate, 
hormonal response; Harms et al. 1997, Tempel and Gutierrez 2003). 
Either response results in a diversion from one biological activity to 
another. That diversion may cause stress (Goudie and Jones 2004), and 
it redirects energy away from fitness-enhancing activities such as 
feeding and mating (Frid and Dill 2002). Other changes in activities as 
a result of anthropogenic noise can include: Increased alertness; 
vigilance; agonistic behavior; escape behavior; temporary or permanent 
abandonment of an area; weakened reflexes; and lowered learning 
responses (van Polanen Petel et al. 2006). Chronic stress can lead to 
loss of immune function, decreased body weight, impaired reproductive 
function, and abnormal thyroid function.
    Despite the importance of understanding the effects of sound on sea 
otters, very few controlled experiments or field observations have been 
conducted to address this topic. Those studies that have been conducted 
have concluded that sea otters are generally quite resistant to the 
effects of sound, and that change to presence, distribution, or 
behavior resulting from acoustic stimuli are rare (Ghoul et al. 2012a 
and b; Reichmuth and Ghoul 2012; Riedman 1984). Additionally, when sea 
otters have displayed behavioral disturbance to acoustic stimuli, they 
quickly become habituated and resume normal activity (Ghoul et al. 

Disturbance From Vessel Traffic and General Operations

    Sea otters generally show a high degree of tolerance and 
habituation to shoreline activities and vessel traffic (Gill, USFWS, 
Marine Mammals Management, pers. obs.), but disturbance may cause 
animals to disperse from the local area. Populations of sea otters in 
Alaska have been known to avoid areas with heavy boat traffic but 
return to those same areas during seasons with less traffic (Garshelis 
and Garshelis 1984). Sea otters in Alaska have shown signs of 
disturbance (escape behaviors) in response to the presence and approach 
of survey vessels, including: Diving and/or actively swimming away from 
a boat; hauled-out otters entering the water; and groups of otters 
disbanding and swimming in multiple different directions (Udevitz et 
al. 1995). However, sea otters off the California coast showed only 
mild interest in boats passing within hundreds of meters, and sea 
otters in California appear to have habituated to boat traffic (Riedman 
1983; Curland 1997). Their behavior is suggestive of a dynamic response 
to disturbance, abandoning areas when disturbed persistently and 
returning when the disturbance ceased. From the above research it is 
likely that some degree of disturbance from vessel traffic associated 
with the proposed actions will occur. Sea otters reacting to vessels 
they encounter may consume energy and divert time and attention from 
biologically important behaviors, such as feeding. However, these 
disturbances are expected to be short term in duration, and this 
potential short-term displacement is not anticipated to affect the 
overall fitness of any individual animal. We also anticipate that 
individual otters will habituate to the presence of project vessels and 
associated noise. Boat traffic, commercial and recreational, is 
constant in Cook Inlet. Some sea otters in the area of activity are 
likely to become habituated to vessel traffic and noise caused by 
vessels due to the existing continual traffic in the area. The 
additional vessel activity that will occur related to these three 
projects is not expected to substantially increase vessel noise or 
activity in the action area above that which is already occurring.
    Sea otter collisions with vessels associated with the proposed 
project are unlikely. Tugs and barges are slow moving and pose little 
risk of colliding with otters. Collisions between fast-moving vessels 
do occur but are infrequent and are usually associated with impaired 
animals (Gill, USFWS, Marine Mammals Management, pers. comm.). No fast 
boat use is proposed, and it is unlikely that housing and crew transfer 
vessels will impact otters.

[[Page 51589]]

Vessels proposed for use to transfer housing and crew can produce 
noises exceeding 190 or 180 dB re 1 [mu]Pa when traveling at higher 
speeds. However, the influence of this sound is limited to a distance 
of 2 to 4 m (6.6 to 13.1 ft) from the vessel. Adherence to operating 
conditions will ensure that these vessels do not take sea otters.

Disturbance From Noise

    Effects of noise on marine mammals are highly variable and can be 
categorized as: Tolerance; masking of natural sounds; behavioral 
disturbance; temporary or permanent hearing impairment; and non-
auditory effects, such as female-pup separations (Richardson et al. 
1995). Whether a specific noise source will cause harm and/or 
disturbance to a sea otter depends on several factors, including the 
distance between the animal and the sound source, the sound intensity, 
background noise levels, the noise frequency (cycles per second; Hz 
(hertz) or kHz), duration, if the noise is pulsed or continuous, and 
whether the noise source originates in the aquatic or terrestrial 
environment. For otters, behavioral reactions may be shown as: Changing 
durations of surfacing and dives; changing direction and/or speed; 
reduced/increased vocal activities; changing/cessation of socializing 
or feeding; visible startle response; avoidance of areas where noise 
sources are located; and/or flight response (e.g., otters flushing into 
water from haulouts). The consequences of behavioral modification have 
the potential to be biologically significant if the change affects 
growth, survival, and reproduction.
    Information regarding the northern sea otter's hearing abilities is 
limited; however, the closely related southern sea otter (Enhydra 
lutris nereis) has some information showing this subspecies' range of 
hearing. Reichmuth and Ghoul (2012) tested the aerial (from airborne 
sound sources) hearing capabilities of one male southern sea otter 
believed to have typical hearing. The study revealed an upper frequency 
hearing limit extending to at least 32 kHz and a low frequency limit 
below 0.125 kHz. These results are generally consistent with comparable 
data for other carnivores, including terrestrial mustelids. This range 
is also similar to that of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina; Pinnipedia) 
(0.075 to 30 kHz) (Kastak and Schusterman 1998, Hemil[auml] et al. 
2006, Southall et al. 2007), which suggests pinnipeds may be a good 
proxy for sea otters. Additionally, sea otters and harbor seals both 
exhibit amphibious hearing and spend a considerable amount of time 
above water, where they are not disturbed by airborne sound sources; 
southern sea otters spend about 80 percent of their time at the sea 
surface, whereas harbor seals may spend up to 60 percent of their time 
hauled out of the water (Frost et al. 2001).
    Riedman (1983) examined changes in the behavior, density, and 
distribution of southern sea otters at Soberanes Point, California, 
that were exposed to recorded noises associated with oil and gas 
activity. The underwater sound sources were played at a level of 110 dB 
and a frequency range of 50-20,000 Hz and included production platform 
activity, drillship, helicopter, and semi-submersible sounds. Riedman 
(1983) also observed the sea otters during seismic airgun shots fired 
at decreasing distances from the nearshore environment (50, 20, 8, 3.8, 
3, 1, and 0.5 nautical miles) at a firing rate of 4 shots per minute 
and a maximum air volume of 4,070 cubic inches. Riedman (1983) observed 
no changes in the presence, density, or behavior of sea otters as a 
result of underwater sounds from recordings or airguns, even at the 
closest distance of 0.5 nm (<1 km). Otters did, however, display slight 
reactions to airborne engine noise. Riedman (1983) concluded that 
seismic activities had no measurable effect on sea otter behavior. The 
experiment was repeated the following year (Riedman 1984) with the same 
    In another controlled study using prerecorded sounds, Davis et al. 
(1988) exposed both northern sea otters in Simpson Bay, Alaska, and 
southern sea otters in Morro Bay, California, to a variety of aerial 
(airborne) and underwater sounds, including a warble tone, sea otter 
pup calls, killer whale calls, airhorns, and an underwater acoustic 
harassment system designed to drive marine mammals away from crude oil 
spills. The sounds were projected at a variety of frequencies, decibel 
levels, and intervals. The authors noted that certain acoustic stimuli 
could cause a startle response and result in dispersal. However, the 
disturbance effects were limited in range (no responses were observed 
for otters approximately 100-200 m (328-656 ft) from the source of the 
stimuli), and habituation to the stimuli was generally very quick 
(within hours or, at most, 3-4 days).
    The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has developed noise 
thresholds used to measure injury for pinnipeds (i.e., on Temporary 
Threshold Shift (TTS) and Permanent Threshold Shift (PTS)). Sea otter 
specific thresholds have not been determined; however, because of their 
biological similarities, we assume that noise thresholds developed by 
NMFS for injury for pinnipeds will be a surrogate for sea otter impacts 
as well. When PTS occurs, there is physical damage to the sound 
receptors in the ear. Severe cases can result in total or partial 
deafness. In other cases, the animal has an impaired ability to hear 
sounds in specific frequency ranges (Kryter 1985).
    The noise thresholds established by NMFS for preventing injury to 
pinnipeds were developed as precautionary estimates of exposures below 
which physical injury would not occur. There is no empirical evidence 
that exposure to pulses of airgun sound can cause PTS in any marine 
mammal, even with large arrays of airguns (Southall et al. 2007). 
However, given the possibility that mammals close to an airgun array 
might incur at least mild TTS in the absence of appropriate mitigation 
measures, researchers have speculated about the possibility that some 
individuals occurring very close to airguns might incur PTS (e.g., 
Richardson et al. 1995).
    Single or occasional occurrences of mild TTS are not indicative of 
permanent auditory damage, but repeated or (in some cases) single 
exposures to a level well above that causing TTS onset might elicit 
PTS. By means of preventing the onset of TTS, it is highly unlikely 
that marine mammals could receive sounds strong enough (and over a 
sufficient duration) to cause permanent hearing impairment. These 
thresholds estimate that take in the form of PTS may occur when 
pinnipeds are exposed to sound pressure levels above 190 dB (Level A 
take; injury). NMFS thresholds indicate that take in the form of TTS 
can occur at levels above 160 dB (Level B; harassment) (all decibel 
(dB) levels given herein are re: 1 [micro]Pa RMS). Until specific sea 
otter thresholds are developed for both Level A and Level B harassment 
and injury, the use of NMFS thresholds for pinnipeds as a proxy for 
otters remains the best available information. NMFS's thresholds are 
further described and justified in NOAA (2005), NOAA (2006), NOAA 
(2008), and Southall et al. (2007) for our analysis.
    In conclusion, using information available for other marine mammals 
as a surrogate, and taking into consideration what is known about sea 
otters, the Service has set the received sound level under water of 160 
dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) as a threshold for Level B take by disturbance for 
sea otters for this proposed IHA (Ghoul and Reichmuth 2012a and b, 
McShane et al. 1995, NOAA 2005, Riedman 1983, Richardson

[[Page 51590]]

et al. 1995). Exposure to unmitigated noise levels in the water greater 
than 160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) will be considered by the Service as 
potentially injurious Level A take; and levels above 190 dB re 1 [mu]Pa 
(rms) are defined as the Level A take threshold for sea otters. Level A 
take will not be authorized and will be avoided through mitigation 

Seismic Operations

    Sound reception studies by Ghoul and Reichmuth (2012b) determined 
that sea otters effectively hear between 125 Hz and 32 kHz, or above 
the range where most seismic energy is produced. Thus, sea otters 
appear to have limited hearing of seismic airguns (especially compared 
to humans with effective hearing down to 20 Hz). To the extent that sea 
otters can detect seismic noise, the potential effects of Apache's and 
SAE's proposed activities are described below.
    Apache's seismic survey has the potential to affect sea otters with 
sound generated by the seismic airguns, active acoustic sources for 
surveys (i.e., pingers), and vessel transit. The seismic airguns used 
by Apache are two 2,400-cubic-inch airgun arrays. The acoustic source 
level of the 2,400-cubic-inch airgun arrays was predicted using the 
JASCO Applied Science air array source model. Two general survey 
environment scenarios were considered for the modeling study: A 
nearshore (from shore out to 18 km (11 mi) offshore) and a channel 
survey scenario (more than 18 km (11 mi) from shore). Results from this 
study can be found in Apache's EA. Mitigation measures are in place to 
reduce the acoustic impacts to sea otters. Vessel-based Protected 
Species Observers will monitor sea otters during all daylight airgun 
operations. To prevent Level A take of sea otters, airgun activity will 
shut down if a sea otter approaches within 500 m (1,640 ft) from the 
source vessel.
    The seismic airguns that will be used during SAE's Cook Inlet 
operation have the potential to acoustically injure marine mammals at 
close proximity. As no sound levels have been effectively measured to 
establish the threshold where injury caused by an acoustic source 
exists, the 190-dB criterion for seals applies most closely to sea 
otters given their more similar natural history than compared to 
cetaceans. To avoid exposing marine mammals to these received noise 
levels, safety zones will be established based on the zones of impact 
(the area ensonified by a specific sound level) for the 440- (221.1 dB 
source), 880- (226.86 dB source) and 1,760- (236.55 dB source) cubic-
inch airgun arrays. Based on the transmission losses empirically 
measured for similar arrays by Collins et al. (2007) in Cook Inlet 
(18.4 Log (R) + 0.00188R), the distances to the 190- and 180-dB 
isopleths (safety zone radii) are described in Table 2. Qualified 
protected species observers will be deployed aboard the seismic vessels 
to monitor the safety zones (see SAE's EA for a more detailed 
description) and alert operations to shut down at the approach of a 
marine mammal to these safety zones, (including a sea otter to the 190-
dB safety zone 315-m radius (1,033 ft)).
    Warner and McCrodan (2011) modeled the distances to the 190- and 
180-dB isopleths from the same vessels to be used in this project while 
they were towing a 2,400-cubic-inch array in Cook Inlet. The maximum 
safety radii were 360 m (1,181 ft; 190 dB) and 1,070 m (3,510 ft; 180 
dB), which correspond well to the numbers in Table 2 given that the 
2,400-cubic-inch array is larger than the 1,760-cubic-inch array. Sound 
source verification of the 1,760-cubic-inch array will be conducted 
soon after operations begin, and the safety radii adjusted as needed.

         Table 2--Safety Zone Radii for Pinnipeds (190 dB) and Cetaceans (180 dB) for Each Airgun Array
                                                            Source level
                  Array  (cubic inch)                           (dB)        190 dB radius (m)  180 dB radius (m)
440....................................................              221.1                 49                165
880....................................................             226.86                 99                327
1,760..................................................             236.55                315                948

    While the pingers and transponders to be used by SAE will be used 
to relocate nodes, their generated source sound levels (185 to 193 dB) 
exceed Level A criteria, but only at a very limited radius distance of 
0 to 6 m (0 to 20 ft). Marine mammal observers and operators will, 
however, ensure that no marine mammals are in the immediate vicinity 
before deploying active pingers and transponders.
    Both the transceiver and the transponders for Apache's and SAE's 
projects produce noise levels just above the most sensitive hearing 
range of sea otters (0.125 to 32 kHz) (Ghoul and Reichmuth 2012a and 
b). Further, given the low acoustical output of the transceiver and the 
transponders, the range of acoustical harassment to marine mammals is 
measured to be approximately 100 m (328 ft), which is significantly 
less than the output from the airgun arrays. In addition, the noise 
produced is not loud enough to reach injury levels in sea otters beyond 
9 m (30 ft). Sea otters are likely to respond to transceiver and 
transponder transmission similar to airgun pulses, but only when 
underwater and very close (a few meters away) to the sources, which is 
very unlikely to occur given the boat activity involved.
    Acoustic noise can also result from explosive charges used for 
seismic activity. Marine mammals close to underwater detonations of 
high explosives can be killed or severely injured, where the auditory 
organs are especially susceptible to injury (Ketten et al. 1993, Ketten 
1995). No underwater detonations are expected to occur in the action 
area, although Apache plans to use explosives in the nearshore 
intertidal area during slack tides. No sea otters are expected to occur 
in this intertidal area, and the Service does not anticipate sea otters 
to interact with this portion of Apache's activity.
    Seismic operations could also cause behavioral effects on sea 
otters. For example, severe disturbance from seismic noise or 
activities could cause female-pup separations, male territory 
abandonment, male territory shifts and conflicts between territories, 
breakup of rafts of nonbreeding males, and or movement by individual 
otters out of nearshore areas into deeper water. These types of 
displacement events, if they occurred, could have repercussions on 
breeding success and/or survival due to increased risk of predation or 
other adverse conditions. However, because sea otters spend relatively 
large amounts of time above the water surface compared to other marine 
mammals, sea otters' potential exposure to the underwater acoustic 
stimuli, such as those associated with seismic surveys (Greene and 
Richardson 1988), may be lower than that of other marine mammal species 
(Richardson et al. 2011). As previously stated, studies have not

[[Page 51591]]

shown these kinds of dramatic responses when otters were exposed to 
seismic operations, and, therefore, we have no reason to believe that 
otters will exhibit any of these reactions during these activities.
    The Service has never documented a stranding related to sound 
exposure for sea otters in Cook Inlet (Gill, USFWS Marine Mammals 
Management, pers. comm.). More directly, no strandings or sea otters in 
distress were observed during the 2D test survey conducted by Apache in 
March 2011 or reported by Cook Inlet inhabitants. To date, there is no 
evidence that serious injury, death, or stranding of sea otters can 
occur from exposure to airgun pulses, even in the case of large airgun 
arrays. As a result, the Service does not expect any sea otters to 
incur serious injury (Level A harassment) or mortality in Cook Inlet or 
strand as a result of the proposed seismic survey.

Drilling Operations

    For BlueCrest's drilling operation, two project components have the 
potential to disturb sea otters: Driving the conductor pipe at each 
well prior to drilling; and vertical seismic profiling (VSP) operations 
that may occur at the completion of each well drilling.
    As described in BlueCrest's application, the conductor pipe driving 
and VSP are impulsive noise activities. Here the Level B disturbance 
exposure to sound levels greater than 160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa-m (rms) 
applies, and ``take'' is addressed relative to noise levels exceeding 
160 dB, above which disturbance can occur until 190 dB, after which 
potential injury can occur.
Conductor Pipe Driving
    A conductor pipe is a relatively short, large-diameter pipe driven 
into the sediment prior to the drilling of oil wells. This section of 
tubing serves to support the initial sedimentary part of the well, 
preventing the looser surface layer from collapsing and obstructing the 
wellbore. The pipe also facilitates the return of cuttings from the 
drill head. Conductor pipes are usually installed using drilling, pile 
driving, or a combination of these techniques. In offshore wells, the 
conductor pipe is also used as a foundation for the wellhead. BlueCrest 
proposes to drive approximately 90 m (300 ft) of 76.2-cm (30-inch) 
conductor pipe at Cosmopolitan 2 (and any associated 
delineation wells) prior to drilling using a Delmar D62-22 impact 
hammer. This hammer has impact weight of 6,200 kg (13,640 pounds) and 
reaches maximum impact energy of 224 kilonewton-m (165,215 foot-pounds) 
at a drop height of 3.6 m (12 ft).
    Blackwell (2005) measured the noise produced by a Delmar D62-22 
driving 91.4-cm (36-inch) steel pipe in Cook Inlet and found sound 
pressure levels to exceed 190 dB re 1[micro]Pa-m (rms) at about 60 m 
(200 ft), 180 dB re 1[micro]Pa-m (rms) at about 250 m (820 ft), and 160 
dB re 1[micro]Pa-m (rms) at just less than 1.9 km (1.2 mi). Each 
conductor pipe driving event is expected to last 1 to 3 days, although 
actual noise generation (pounding) would occur only intermittently 
during this period. It is anticipated that sea otters will move away 
from any sound disturbance caused by the pipe driving or become 
habituated by it.
Vertical Seismic Profiling (VSP)
    Once a well is drilled, accurate followup seismic data can be 
collected by placing a receiver at known depths in the borehole and 
shooting a seismic airgun at the surface near the borehole. This 
gathered data provides not only high-resolution images of the 
geological layers penetrated by the borehole, called vertical seismic 
profiling (VSP), but it can also be used to accurately correlate (or 
correct) the original surface seismic data.
    BlueCrest intends to conduct VSP operations at the end of drilling 
each well using an array of airguns with total volumes of between 9.83 
and 14.42 liters (600 and 880 cubic inches). Each VSP operation is 
expected to last less than 1 or 2 days. Assuming a 1-m source level of 
227 dB re 1[micro]Pa (based on manufacturer's specifications) for a 
14.42-liter (880-cubic-inch) array and using Collins et al.'s (2007) 
transmission loss model for the Cook Inlet (18.4 Log(R)--0.00188R), the 
190-dB radius (Level A take threshold for pinnipeds and surrogate for 
sea otters) from source was estimated at 100 m (330 ft), and the 160-dB 
radius (Level B disturbance take threshold for all sea otters) at 2.46 
km (1.53 mi). These were the initial injury and safety zones 
established for monitoring during a VSP operation conducted by 
Buccaneer at Cosmopolitan State 1 during July 2013. 
Illingworth and Rodkin (2013) measured the underwater noise levels 
associated with the July 2013 VSP operation using an 11.8-liter (720-
cubic-inch) array and found the noise exceeding 160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa 
(rms) extended out 2.47 km (1.56 mi) or virtually identical to the 
modeled distance. The measured radius to the 190-dB level was 75 m (246 
ft) and to the 180-dB level was 240 m (787 ft). The best fit model for 
the empirical data was 227 -19.75 log(R)--0.0R (Illingworth and Rodkin 
Exploratory Drilling and Standard Operation
    The jack-up drilling rig, Endeavour, is not expected to impact 
otters. Lattice-legged jack-up drill rigs are relatively quiet because 
the lattice legs limit transfer of noise generated from the drilling 
table to the water (Richardson et al. 1995, Spence et al. 2007). 
Further, the drilling platform and other noise-generating equipment are 
located above the ocean surface, so there is very little surface 
contact with the water compared to drill ships and semi-submersible 
drill rigs. For example, the Spartan 151, the only other jack-up 
drilling rig operating in the Cook Inlet, was hydro-acoustically 
measured by Marine Acoustics, Inc. (2011) while operating in 2011. The 
survey results showed that continuous noise levels exceeding 120 dB re 
1[micro]Pa extended out only 50 m (164 ft), and that this noise was 
largely associated with the diesel engines used as power generators. 
The Endeavour was hydro-acoustically tested during drilling activities 
by Illingworth and Rodkin (2013) in May 2013, while the rig was 
operating at Cosmopolitan State 1. The results from the sound 
source verification indicated that noise generated from drilling or 
generators were below ambient noise. The generators used on the 
Endeavour are mounted on pedestals specifically to reduce noise 
transfer through the infrastructure, and they are enclosed in an 
insulated engine room. In addition, the submersed deep-well pumps that 
cool the generators and charge the fire-suppression system also 
generate noise levels exceeding 120 dB re 1[micro]Pa out a distance of 
approximately 300 m (984 ft). However, the Service does not anticipate 
that this level of noise will impact sea otters. Thus, neither actual 
drilling operations nor running generators on the Endeavour drill rig 
generates underwater noise levels exceeding 120 dB re 1[micro]Pa.
    For this IHA analysis, acoustical injury to sea otters can occur if 
received noise levels exceed 190 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms). This is 
classified as a Level A take (injury), which is not authorized by IHAs. 
The towing, drilling, and pump operations to be used during BlueCrest's 
program do not have the potential to acoustically injure marine mammals 
(see Section 6 of the BlueCrest application). Therefore, no shutdown 
safety zones will be established for these activities. However, the 
conductor pipe driving and VSP operations do generate impulsive noises 
exceeding 190 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms). Based on the estimated distances to 
the 190-dB isopleth addressed above, a 60-m (200-foot)

[[Page 51592]]

shutdown safety zone will be established and monitored during conductor 
pipe driving (at least until the noise levels are empirically 
verified), while a 75-m (246-ft) shutdown safety zone will be monitored 
during VSP operations. Sea otters may be disturbed at noise levels 
between 160 dB to 190 dB, where disturbance can occur (Level B 
harassment) out to approximately 0.75 km (2.5 mi). If these takes 
occur, they are likely to result in nothing more than short-term 
changes in behavior.

Estimated Take of Sea Otters

    As described earlier, the Service anticipates that incidental take 
will occur during Cook Inlet oil and gas activities conducted by 
Apache, SAE, and BlueCrest. In the sections below, we estimate take by 
harassment of the numbers of sea otters from the Southcentral stock 
that are likely to be affected during the proposed activities.

Sound Levels

    As noted earlier, there is a lack of information available 
regarding the impacts of noise disturbance on sea otters. However, by 
using information available for other marine mammals as a surrogate, 
and taking into consideration what is known about sea otters, the 
Service has set the received sound level under water of 160 dB re 1 
[mu]Pa (rms) as a threshold for Level B take by disturbance for sea 
otters for this proposed IHA (Ghoul and Reichmuth 2012a and b, McShane 
et al. 1995, NOAA 2005, Riedman 1983, Richardson et al. 1995). Exposure 
to unmitigated noise levels in the water greater than 190 dB re 1 
[mu]Pa (rms) will be considered by the Service as potentially injurious 
Level A take threshold for sea otters. Level A take will not be 
authorized and will be avoided through mitigation measures, such as 
ramp-down or shut-down procedures when sea otters are observed in a 
designated mitigation zone.

Population Size Estimate

    The current estimate for the Southcentral Alaska stock of northern 
sea otters is 18,297 (USFWS 2014). Aerial surveys in Kachemak Bay in 
2002, 2007, and 2008, indicated that the sea otter population is 
increasing. The rate of increase for the Cook Inlet portion of the 
population is unknown because surveys have not been repeated; however, 
it is assumed to be similar to that in Kachemak Bay. The estimated sea 
otter population for Cook Inlet was, therefore, adjusted to allow for 
population growth between 2002 and 2014 at the same rate as Kachemak 
Bay. This rate was calculated by estimating least squares linear and 
exponential trends for the 2002, 2007, 2008, and 2012 population 
estimates. The linear model was selected based on model fit (R-
squaredlinear 0.98 vs. R-squaredexp 0.92). This 
model predicted an annual population growth of 495 animals and an 
estimated 2014 population size of 6,904 animals for Cook Inlet.


    The density of sea otters has been reported as either otters per 
area or otters per length of linear coastline. Because sea otters 
primarily forage nearshore in shallow water and rely on coastal 
habitat, we calculated density per linear kilometer of coastline. The 
length of the 2002 USGS survey coastline from which the Cook Inlet 
population was estimated was 539.98 km. Using the estimated 2014 
population size and applying that to the length of coastline; the 
Service calculated a density of 12.79 (95 percent CI 6.5-19.08) otters 
per kilometer of coastline (6,904/539.98 = 12.79). For the offshore 
activities proposed by Blue Crest, we used observational data from 2013 
to estimate the number of sea otters per day within the area that could 
be observed from the drill rig. The estimate was based on the number of 
sea otters observed from the Endeavor drilling rig during Buccaneer gas 
exploration activities in 2013 by marine mammal monitors in the same 
area and during the same proposed timeframe (BlueCrest 2013).

Estimation of Take for Seismic Programs

    Incidental take of otters is estimated as the number of otters that 
may be exposed to Level B harassment during the entire duration of the 
project, as it has been described. No lethal take is expected, and all 
take will be by harassment; therefore, individual animals may be taken 
multiple times over the course of the project. The total estimated 
number of takes is the number of otters multiplied by the number of 
times each animal could potentially be taken. It does not account for 
animals that may remove themselves from the impact area and thus avoid 
repeated exposures. It also does not subtract animals that are harassed 
early during the project but then become habituated to seismic sound at 
levels below injury thresholds. The Service has no information on which 
to base such adjustments to the calculation of total number of takes. 
However, larger estimates of the total number of takes are expected for 
projects with a larger impact area or longer duration. For these 
reasons, the estimated total number of takes should be considered as a 
useful metric for comparison rather than a precise measure of the 
project's overall potential for impact. Our determination of small 
numbers is based on the number of sea otters taken and not the number 
of times a sea otter may be taken.
    The northern end of the seismic project areas extends beyond the 
range of the sea otter. To determine the most northern range for sea 
otters, all observations in middle and upper Cook Inlet proper (as 
defined by areas north of Point Pogibshi and east of Chinitna Point) 
reported during sea otter surveys or as incidental sightings during 
Steller's eider (Larned 2004, 2006) and beluga whale surveys (Rugh et 
al. 2006, Goetz et al. 2012) were compiled. To reduce the influence of 
extralimital sightings, a minimum convex polygon containing 95 percent 
of sea otter sightings was created, excluding 5 percent of sightings 
with the greatest distance to the centroid. A buffer area was expanded 
outside the project areas to show the farthest distances at which the 
two seismic surveys could ensonify areas in the range of sea otters at 
the 160-dB level. The buffer areas differed for Apache and SAE based on 
the size of their gun arrays. Apache proposed to use a 2,400-cubic-inch 
array, while SAE proposed to use a 1,760-cubic-inch array. The 
estimated buffer for Apache's project area was 9.5 km (5.9 mi), while 
SAE's buffer area was 4.75 km (2.9 mi).
    The length of coastline that intersected the Apache project area 
and the corresponding buffer were measured to estimate the length of 
coastline along which otters are expected to occur and may be affected 
by the seismic surveys. Applying the estimated density of 12.79 otters 
per km of coastline to the length of the coastline (27.5 km; 17.1 mi) 
yields a final estimate of approximately 351 otters that could be taken 
(12.79 x 27.5 = 351; estimated 95 percent CI from 178 to 524 otters).
    In addition, we estimated the total number of incidental takes of 
otters based on Apache's description of survey time that would be spent 
in each quadrant of the survey area. We calculated that approximately 
19.25 percent of these surveys would occur within the probable range of 
sea otters in Cook Inlet and within 9.5 km (5.9 mi) of the coast, where 
sea otters are most likely to be found and could be affected by the 
seismic surveys. The estimated total time spent in these areas was 
approximately 3.27 survey days.

[[Page 51593]]

Allowing one take per otter, per survey day, yields 1,150 takes (3.27 x 
351 = 1,150; estimated 95 percent confidence interval [CI] 584-1,715).
SAExploration, Inc.
    The length of coastline that intersected the SAE project area, but 
did not overlap with Apache seismic surveys, was buffered 4.75 km (2.95 
mi) based on farthest distances at which seismic surveys are predicted 
to ensonify an area using a model developed for Cook Inlet by Collins 
et al. (2007). SAE's estimated total length of Cook Inlet coastline 
where sea otters may be affected by the seismic surveys was 55.72 km 
(34.6 mi). Applying the estimated density of 12.79 otters per km of 
coastline to the length of the coastline for SAE's longer length of 
coastline than Apache's yields an estimated 713 otters that could 
possibly be taken (55.72 x 12.79 = 712.5; estimated 95 percent CI from 
362 to 1,064 otters).
    We further estimated the total number of takes for the duration of 
SAE's project based on SAE's description of surveys. For this project 
we calculated approximately 31.6 percent of SAE's surveys would occur 
in the sea otter range in Cook Inlet and within 4.75 km (2.95 mi) of 
the coast. We estimated the total time the seismic project would spend 
in the calculated otter range was approximately 10.1 survey days. Due 
to the slow rate of vessel speed and the planned layout of survey 
transects, the length of the coastline affected each day would be less 
than the total length of coastline within the SAE project area. To 
calculate the maximum number of otters that could be taken per day, we 
calculated the maximum length of impacted shoreline per day, times 
density of otters per linear km of shoreline. The maximum shoreline 
impact in a day would occur from a 12-km (7.46-mi) transect parallel to 
shore. With buffers to allow for sound attenuation, a total of 21.5 km 
(13.4 mi) maximum could be affected each day (4.75 + 12 + 4.75 = 21.5 
km). An adjustment was made for the length of the coastline ensonified 
each day by SAE because, unlike the Apache seismic project, the SAE 
survey area is large enough that seismic ensonification would not 
affect the entire section of coastline within the SAE project area and 
would ensonify only a portion of the coastline at one time. For SAE, 
allowing one take per otter per survey day and an estimated density of 
12.76 otters per km, the maximum estimated daily take of otters is 275 
(21.5 x 12.79 = 275). We estimated that the total number of takes after 
10.1 survey days would be 2,778 takes (10.1 x 275 = 2,778; estimated 95 
percent CI 1,412-4,145) would occur.

Estimation of Take for the Drilling Program

    The Service determined that the BlueCrest activities most likely to 
result in the take of sea otters, as defined under the MMPA, are 
conductor pipe driving (CPD) and vertical seismic profiling (VSP). 
These activities will generate noise levels in the water that may cause 
short-term, temporary, nonlethal, but biologically significant changes 
in behavior to sea otters that the Service considers to be Level B take 
by disturbance under the MMPA. Other proposed activities, such as rig 
towing, noise generated from routine rig activities, routine boat 
traffic, and periodic air traffic were considered to have a limited 
potential for disturbance leading to Level B take. Adherence to 
specified operating conditions will ensure that take does not occur. 
The Service made these determinations, in part, based on information 
provided in the application materials provided by BlueCrest, including 
the application's Marine Mammal Monitoring and Mitigation Plan.
    The proposed BlueCrest activities, previously discussed in detail, 
will primarily occur in a limited area around the Endeavor jack-up 
drilling rig at the Cosmopolitan 1 site. The Service used the 
number of sea otters observed from the Endeavor drilling rig during 
Buccaneer gas exploration activities in 2013 in the same area and 
during the same proposed timeframe as a basis for estimating the 
maximum number of otters likely to be in the area per day (BlueCrest 
    In 2013, an area of 210 m\2\ (2260 ft\2\) on the surface of the 
water around the deep water pump was intensively observed for the 
presence of sea otters (BlueCrest 2013). Given the high probability of 
detection of sea otters in such a small area in direct proximity to the 
rig, the Service used these observations as the basis for estimating 
the presence of sea otters in the area for the 2014 operations. From 
May to August (103 observation days), an average of 2.54 sea otters 
were observed in the 210-m\2\ (2,260-ft\2\) area around the deepwater 
    The Service estimated the number of sea otters per day in a Zone of 
Impact (ZOI) by multiplying the number of sea otters observed per day 
in the deepwater pump observation area by the relative size of the 160 
dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) ZOI of the CPD and VSP. For example, the VSP ZOI 
is 19.2 km\2\ or 91.42 times larger than the deepwater pump observation 
area: The otters per day is 91.42 x 2.54 = 232.23. We multiplied the 
estimated number of sea otters per day by the number of days the 
activity is proposed to occur and then, because the otters are rafting 
through rather than foraging, we adjusted the number of otters 
potentially exposed to these noise levels to account for the time sea 
otters spend on the surface, which is approximately 70 percent and 
based on observational surveys (Bodkin et al 2004, Estes et al 1986, 
Riedman and Estes 1990, Walker et al. 2008, Yeates et al. 2007). The 
estimate of potential Level A takes of sea otters is zero.
Conductor Pipe Driving
    BlueCrest will use a Delmar D62-22 diesel impact hammer to drive 
the 76.2-centimeter (30-inch) conductor pipe that was acoustically 
measured earlier in Cook Inlet (Blackwell 2005). These measurements 
found that noise in the water of approximately 190 dB re 1 [mu]Pa 
extended to about 60 meters (200 feet) from the source, and noise in 
the water of approximately 180 dB re 1 [mu]Pa extended to about 250 
meters (820 feet) from the source. Noise in the water of approximately 
160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa extended to just less than 1.9 kilometers (1.2 
miles). Based on this, the associated Zone of Impact (ZOI) (area 
ensonified by noise >160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa) is 11.3 square kilometers (4.4 
square miles) for the CPD estimate.
Vertical Seismic Profiling
    Noise levels during Buccaneer VSP operations at the Cosmopolitan 
1 site were measured in July 2013 (Illingworth and Rodkin 
2013). Measurements indicated that the 11.8-liter (720-cubic-inch) 
airgun array used during the operation produced noise levels exceeding 
160 dB re 1 [micro]Pa out to a distance of approximately 2,470 meters 
(8,100 feet). Based on these results, the associated ZOI for this VSP 
estimate is 19.2 square kilometers (7.4 square miles).

[[Page 51594]]

                  Table 3--Estimated Number of Level B Takes of Sea Otters From the Southcentral Stock by Proposed BlueCrest Activities
                                                                                                                                       Sea otter surface
                    BlueCrest activity                       Activity days       Activity ZOI      Estimated sea      Estimated sea     time adjustment
                                                                                   (Km\2\)         otters per day     otters exposed         (70%)
CPD......................................................                  3               11.3             136.68                410                123
VSP......................................................                  3               19.2             232.23                697                209
    Total................................................                  6               30.5             368.91               1107                332

    This method for estimating take differs from that used for 
activities proposed by Apache and SAE. Due to the relatively stationary 
nature of the BlueCrest activities, as well as the distance from shore, 
the Service determined that utilizing an estimated density of sea 
otters based on linear coastline, or based on density of otters in the 
overall area, did not provide a reasonable estimate of potential takes 
for the BlueCrest project. Both of those methods provided what the 
Service considered to be unreasonably low estimates of take. The method 
the Service adopted for this proposed IHA is most likely an 
overestimate of take.
    In conclusion, for the two seismic operations occurring in Cook 
Inlet, Apache is estimated to have approximately 1,150 takes of 351 
otters, while SAE is estimated to have approximately 2,778 takes of 713 
otters; there may be some overlap of impact areas. In addition, Level B 
take from the BlueCrest activities is estimated to be 332. The total 
number of otters affected is likely to be 351 + 713 + 332 = 1,396 or 
less. The Service believes all anticipated takes would be nonlethal 
harassment involving short-term, temporary changes in behavior (Level B 
harassment). The Service considers 1,396 sea otters, approximately 8 
percent of the 18,297 sea otters estimated to occur in the Southcentral 
Alaska stock (USFWS 2014), to be a small number. See Table 4 for 
summary of takes.

                                       Table 4--Summary of Estimated Takes
                                                              Number of takes (Level B    Number of sea otters
                         Applicants                                  harassment)                  taken
Apache......................................................                     1,150                       351
BlueCrest...................................................                     2,778                       713
SAE.........................................................                       332                       332
    Total...................................................                     4,260                     1,396

Potential Effects on Sea Otter Habitat

    As described in greater detail previously, the oil and gas 
exploration activities associated with these proposed IHAs are two 
seismic surveys and one drilling operation. The primary potential 
impacts to sea otters, and other marine species, are associated with 
high-energy impulsive sound levels produced by these activities. 
However, other potential impacts are also possible to the surrounding 
habitat from physical disturbance, discharges, or an oil spill.
    Since sea otters typically inhabit nearshore marine areas, 
shoreline length is a readily available metric that can be used to 
quantify sea otter habitat. The total length of shoreline within the 
range of the Southcentral Alaska stock of northern sea otters is 
approximately 2,575 km (1,600 mi), of which 540 km (335.5 mi) are 
located within Cook Inlet. Of that, the total length of shoreline for 
the proposed activities is approximately 84 km (52.2 mi), which is a 
small percentage of the total shoreline habitat available to the 
Southcentral sea otter stock.

Potential Impacts to Prey

    In addition to the disturbances outlined above to sea otter habitat 
from noise, these activities could affect sea otter habitat in the form 
of impacts to prey species. The primary prey species for sea otters are 
sea urchins, abalone, clams, mussels, crabs, and squid (Tinker and 
Estes 1999). When preferential prey are scarce, otters will also eat 
kelp crabs, clams, turban snails, octopuses, barnacles, sea stars, 
scallops, rock oysters, fat innkeeper worms, and chitons (Riedman and 
Estes 1990). Thus, the nearshore habitats where sea otters forage and 
support these species are of utmost importance to Cook Inlet sea 
From Seismic Surveys
    Little research has been conducted on the effects of seismic 
operations on invertebrates (Normandeau Associates, Inc. 2012). 
Christian et al. (2003) concluded that there were no obvious effects 
from seismic signals on crab behavior and no significant effects on the 
health of adult crabs. Pearson et al. (1994) had previously found no 
effects of seismic signals upon crab larvae for exposures as close as 1 
m (3.3 ft) from the array, or for mean sound pressure as high as 231 dB 
re 1 [micro]Pa. Squid and other invertebrate species have complex 
statocysts (Nixon and Young 2003) that resemble the otolith organs of 
fish that may allow them to detect sounds (Budelmann 1992). Normandeau 
Associates, Inc. (2012) concluded that invertebrates are sensitive to 
local water movements and to low-frequency particle accelerations 
generated by sources in their close vicinity.
From Drill Rig Presence
    The potential direct habitat impact by the BlueCrest drilling 
operation is limited to the actual drill-rig footprint defined as the 
area occupied and enclosed by the drill-rig legs. The jack-up rig will 
temporarily disturb up to two offshore locations in upper Cook Inlet, 
where the wells are proposed to be drilled. Bottom disturbance would 
occur in the area where the three legs of the rig would be set down and 
where the actual well would be drilled. The jack-up drill rig footprint 
would occupy three steel piles at 14 m (46 ft) diameter. The well 
casing would be a 76-cm (30-in) diameter pipe extending from the

[[Page 51595]]

seafloor to the rig floor. The casing would be in place only during 
drilling activities at each potential well location. The total area of 
disturbance was calculated by BlueCrest as 0.54 acres. The collective 
2-acre footprint of the wells represents a very small fraction of the 
entire Cook Inlet. Potential damage to the Cook Inlet benthic community 
will be limited to the actual surface area of the three spud cans 
(1,585 square ft each or 4,755 square ft total) that form the ``foot'' 
of each leg. Given the high tidal energy at the well site locations, 
drilling footprints are not expected to support benthic communities 
equivalent to shallow lower energy sites found in nearshore waters. The 
presence of the drill rig is not expected to result in any direct loss 
of sea otter habitat.
From Drilling Discharges
    The drill rig will operate under an APDES general permit for 
wastewater discharges. This permit authorizes discharges from oil and 
gas extraction facilities engaged in exploration under the Offshore and 
Coastal Subcategories of the Oil and Gas Extraction Point Source 
Category (40 CFR part 435). Twelve effluents are authorized for 
discharge into Cook Inlet once discharge limits set by the Alaska 
Department of Environmental Conservation have been met. The authorized 
discharges include drilling fluids and drill cuttings, deck drainage, 
sanitary waste, domestic waste, blowout preventer fluid, boiler 
blowdown, fire control system test water, uncontaminated ballast water, 
bilge water, excess cement slurry, mud cuttings cement at sea floor, 
and completion fluids. The drill rig will also be authorized under the 
Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Vessel General Permit for 
deck washdown and runoff, gray water, and gray water mixed with sewage 
discharges. Drilling wastes include drilling fluids, known as mud, rock 
cuttings, and formation waters. Drilling wastes (non-hydrocarbon) will 
be discharged to the Cook Inlet under the approved APDES general 
    Drilling wastes (hydrocarbon) will be delivered to an onshore 
permitted location for disposal. BlueCrest will conduct an 
Environmental Monitoring Study of relevant hydrographic, sediment 
hydrocarbon, and heavy metal data from surveys conducted before and 
during drilling mud disposal and at least 1 year after drilling 
operations cease in accordance with the APDES general permit for 
discharges of drilling muds and cuttings.
    Non-drilling wastewater includes deck drainage, sanitary waste, 
domestic waste, blowout preventer fluid, boiler blowdown, fire control 
test water, bilge water, noncontact cooling water, and uncontaminated 
ballast water. Non-drilling wastewater will be discharged into Cook 
Inlet under the approved APDES general permit or delivered to an 
onshore permitted location for disposal. Mud cuttings will be 
constantly tested. Hydrocarbon-contaminated muds will be hauled 
offsite. Solid waste (e.g., packaging, domestic trash) will be 
classified, segregated, and labeled as general, universal, and Resource 
Conservation and Recovery Act exempt or nonexempt waste. Solid waste 
will be stored in containers at designated accumulation areas until it 
can be packaged and transported to an approved onshore disposal 
facility. Hazardous wastes should not be generated as a result of this 
project. However, if any hazardous wastes are generated, they will be 
temporarily stored in an onboard satellite accumulation area and then 
transported offsite for disposal at an approved facility.
    Discharging drill cuttings or other liquid waste streams generated 
by the drilling rig--even in permitted amounts--could potentially 
affect marine mammal habitat. Toxins could persist in the water column, 
which could have an impact on marine mammal prey species. However, 
despite a considerable amount of investment in research on exposures of 
marine mammals to organochlorines or other toxins, no marine mammal 
deaths in the wild can be conclusively linked to the direct exposure to 
such substances (O'Shea 1999).
    Drilling muds and cuttings discharged to the seafloor can lead to 
localized increased turbidity and increase in background concentrations 
of barium and occasionally other metals in sediments and may affect 
lower trophic organisms. Drilling muds are composed primarily of 
bentonite (clay), and the toxicity is, therefore, low. Heavy metals in 
the mud may be absorbed by benthic organisms, but studies have shown 
that heavy metals do not bio-magnify in marine food webs (Neff et al. 
1989). Effects on benthic communities are nearly always restricted to a 
zone within about 100 to 150 m (328 to 492 ft) of the discharge, where 
cuttings accumulations are greatest. Discharges and drill cuttings 
could impact fish by displacing them from the affected area. No water 
quality impacts are anticipated from permitted discharges that would 
negatively affect habitat for Cook Inlet sea otters.

Potential Impacts From an Oil Spill or Unpermitted Discharge

    The probability of an oil spill from the proposed activities is 
low. Potential sources would be a release from a support vessel or an 
incident associated with BlueCrest's exploratory drilling (while the 
target of that drilling is natural gas, there is still a remote 
possibility of an oil spill). An oil spill or unpermitted discharge is 
an illegal act; IHAs do not authorize takes of sea otters caused by 
illegal or unpermitted activities.
    If an oil spill did occur, the most likely impact upon sea otters 
would be mortality due to exposure to and ingestion of spilled oil. 
Also, contamination of sea otter habitat, their invertebrate prey, and 
prey habitat would most likely result in a range of impacts ranging 
from sublethal to lethal, depending on a wide variety of factors. Spill 
response activities are not likely to disturb the prey items of sea 
otters sufficiently to cause more than minor effects. Spill response 
activities could cause sea otters to avoid contaminated habitat that is 
being cleaned.
    Based on the preceding discussion of potential types and likelihood 
of impacts to sea otters, their prey, and habitat, the Service 
anticipates that the proposed activities are not likely to cause more 
than negligible, short-term, and temporary impacts to a small number of 
sea otters and to a small fraction of sea otter habitat.

Potential Impacts on Subsistence Needs

    According to the IHA applications, Apache, SAE, and BlueCrest have 
contacted all potentially affected subsistence communities, and the 
communities have expressed no concerns regarding the potential impacts 
upon the availability of sea otters for subsistence use (see proposed 
EAs at http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/itr.htm). Data from the 
Service's Marine Mammal Marking, Tagging, and Reporting Program (MTRP) 
indicates that the mean reported annual subsistence take from 2009 
through 2013 from communities that reported harvest of sea otters in or 
near the proposed project areas was 124 animals (USFWS MTRP unpub. 
data). The number of sea otters harvested for subsistence in Cook Inlet 
is relatively small compared to other areas. In addition, meetings with 
affected communities held by the companies that discussed these 
proposed activities did not reveal concern that these activities would 
impact sea otters. Therefore, the Service anticipates no impacts on 
subsistence uses of sea otters

[[Page 51596]]

will result from any of the proposed activities or from the issuance of 
the proposed IHAs.

Proposed Mitigation Measures

    Holders of an IHA must use methods and conduct activities in a 
manner that minimizes to the greatest extent practicable adverse 
impacts on sea otters, their habitat, and on the availability of sea 
otters for subsistence uses. Adaptive management approaches, such as 
temporal or spatial limitations in response to the presence of sea 
otters in a particular place or time or the occurrence of sea otters 
engaged in a particularly sensitive activity (such as feeding), must be 
used to avoid or minimize interactions with sea otters, and subsistence 
users of these resources.
    We require holders of an IHA to cooperate with the Service and 
other designated Federal, State, and local agencies to monitor the 
impacts of oil and gas exploration activities on sea otters. The 
following mitigation measures are proposed to be included in the 
individual IHAs.
    Operating conditions for operational and support vessels:
     Operational and support vessels must be staffed with 
trained and qualified observers to alert crew of the presence of sea 
otters and initiate adaptive mitigation responses.
     Vessel operators must take every precaution to avoid 
harassment to sea otters when a vessel is operating near these animals.
     Vessels must reduce speed and maintain a distance of 100 m 
(328 ft) from all sea otters when practicable.
     Vessels may not be operated in such a way as to separate 
members of a group of sea otters from other members of the group.
     When weather conditions require, such as when visibility 
drops, vessels should adjust speed accordingly to avoid the likelihood 
of injury to sea otters.
     All vessels must avoid areas of active or anticipated 
subsistence hunting for sea otters as determined through community 
     We may require a monitor on the site of the activity or 
onboard drillships, drill rigs, support vessels, aircraft, or vehicles 
to monitor the impacts of an activity on sea otters.
    Operating conditions for aircraft:
     Operators of support aircraft must, at all times, conduct 
their activities at the maximum distance possible from sea otters.
     Fixed-wing aircraft must operate at an altitude no lower 
than 91 m (300 ft) in the vicinity of sea otters.
     Rotary winged aircraft (helicopters) must operate at an 
altitude no lower than 305 m (1,000 ft) in the vicinity of sea otters.
     When weather conditions do not safely allow the required 
minimum altitudes stipulated above, such as during severe storms or 
when cloud cover is low, aircraft may be operated at lower altitudes.
     When aircraft are operated at altitudes below the required 
minimum altitudes, the operator must avoid known sea otter locations 
and should take precautions to avoid flying directly over these areas.
     Aircraft routes must be planned to minimize any potential 
conflict with active or anticipated sea otter subsistence hunting 
activity as determined through community consultations.
    Offshore seismic surveys:
    Any offshore exploration activity expected to include the 
production of pulsed underwater sounds with sound source levels >=160 
dB re 1 [mu]Pa will be required to establish and monitor acoustic 
exclusion and disturbance zones and implement adaptive mitigation 
measures as follows:
     Monitor zones. Establish and monitor with trained and 
qualified observers an acoustically verified disturbance zone 
surrounding seismic source arrays where the received level will be >= 
180 dB re 1 [mu]Pa and an acoustically verified exclusion zone 
surrounding seismic source arrays where the received level will be >= 
190 dB re 1 [mu]Pa.
     Ramp-up procedures. For all seismic surveys, including 
airgun testing, use the following ramp-up procedures to allow marine 
mammals to depart the disturbance zone before seismic surveying begins.
    [cir] Visually monitor the disturbance zone and adjacent waters for 
sea otters for at least 30 minutes before initiating ramp-up 
procedures. If no sea otters are detected, you may initiate ramp-up 
procedures. Do not initiate ramp-up procedures at night or when you 
cannot visually monitor the disturbance zone for marine mammals.
    [cir] Initiate ramp-up procedures by firing a single airgun. The 
preferred airgun to begin with should be the smallest airgun, in terms 
of energy output (dB) and volume (cubic inches).
    [cir] Continue ramp-up by gradually activating additional airguns 
over a period of at least 20 minutes, but no longer than 40 minutes, 
until the desired operating level of the airgun array is obtained.
     Power down/Shutdown. Immediately power down or shutdown 
the seismic source array and/or other acoustic sources whenever one or 
more sea otters are sighted close to or within the area delineated by 
the 180 dB re 1 [mu]Pa disturbance zone. If the power down operation 
cannot reduce the received sound pressure level to 160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa 
or less, the operator must immediately shut down the seismic airgun 
array and/or other acoustic sources.
     Emergency shutdown. If observations are made or credible 
reports are received that one or more sea otters are within the area of 
the seismic survey and are indicating acute distress, such as any 
injury due to seismic noise, the seismic airgun array will be 
immediately shutdown and the Service contacted. The airgun array will 
not be restarted until review and approval by the Service.

Monitoring and Reporting Requirements

Monitoring Requirements

    Holders of an IHA will be required to:
     Maintain trained and qualified onsite observers to carry 
out monitoring programs for sea otters necessary for initiating 
adaptive mitigation responses.
     Place trained and qualified observers on board all 
operational and support vessels to alert crew of the presence of sea 
otters to initiate adaptive mitigation responses and to carry out 
specified monitoring activities identified in the marine mammal 
monitoring and mitigation plan necessary to evaluate the impact of 
authorized activities on sea otters and the subsistence use of sea 
     Cooperate with the Service and other designated Federal, 
State, and local agencies to monitor the impacts of oil and gas 
exploration activities on sea otters.

Reporting Requirements

    Holders of an IHA must keep the Service informed on the progress of 
authorized activities by:
     Notifying the Service at least 48 hours prior to the onset 
of activities.
     Providing weekly progress reports of authorized activities 
noting any significant changes in operating state and or location.
     Notifying the Service within 48 hours of ending activity.
Weekly Observation Reports
    Holders of an IHA must report, on a weekly basis, observations of 
sea otters during project activities. Information within the 
observation report will include, but is not limited to:
     Date, time, and location of each sighting.

[[Page 51597]]

     Number, sex, and age (if determinable).
     Observer name, company name, vessel name or aircraft 
number, letter of authorization number, and contact information.
     Weather, visibility, and sea conditions at the time of 
     Estimated distance from the animal or group when initially 
sighted, at closest approach, and end of the encounter.
     Industry activity at time of sighting and throughout the 
encounter. If a seismic survey, record the estimated ensonification 
zone where animals are observed.
     Behavior of animals at initial sighting, any change in 
behavior during the observation period, and distance from Industry 
activity associated with those behavioral changes.
     Detailed description of the encounter.
     Duration of the encounter.
     Duration of any behavioral response (e.g., diving, 
swimming, splashing, etc.).
     Mitigation actions taken.
Notification of Incident Report
    Holders of an IHA must report to the Service within 24 hours:
     Any incidental lethal take or injury of a sea otter due to 
project activities; and
     Observations of sea otters within prescribed disturbance 
mitigation monitoring zones.
After-Action Monitoring Reports
    The results of monitoring efforts identified in the marine mammal 
monitoring and mitigation plan must be submitted to the Service for 
review within 90 days of the expiration date of the IHA.
    The report must include, but is not limited to, the following 
     A summary of monitoring effort including: Total hours, 
areas/distances, and distribution of sea otters through the project 
area of each rig, vessel, and aircraft.
     Analysis of factors affecting the visibility and 
detectability of sea otters by specified monitoring.
     Analysis of the distribution, abundance, and behavior of 
sea otter sightings in relation to date, location, sea conditions, and 
operational state.
     Estimates of take based on the number of animals 
encountered/km of vessel and aircraft operations by behavioral response 
(no response, moved away, dove, etc.), and animals encountered per day 
by behavioral response for stationary drilling operations.
     Raw data in electronic format (i.e., Excel spreadsheet) as 
specified by the Service in consultation with Industry representatives.
     Sighting rates of marine mammals during periods with and 
without airgun activities (and other variables that could affect 
     Initial sighting distances versus airgun activity state 
(firing, powered down, or shut-down).
     Closest point of approach versus airgun activity state.
     Observed behaviors and types of movements versus airgun 
activity state.
     Numbers of sightings/individuals seen versus airgun 
activity state.


    The Service proposes the following findings regarding this action:

Small Numbers Determination and Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment

    For small take analysis, the statute and legislative history do not 
expressly require a specific type of numerical analysis, leaving the 
determination of ``small'' to the agency's discretion. Factors 
considered in our small numbers determination include the following:
    (1) The number of northern sea otters inhabiting the proposed 
impact area is small relative to the size of the northern sea otter 
population. The total number of sea otters that could potentially be 
taken by harassment in association with the proposed activity is 1,396, 
which is less than ten percent of the estimated population size of 
18,297 (USFWS 2014).
    (2) The area where the proposed activities would occur is a 
relatively small fraction of the available habitat of the Southcentral 
Alaska stock of northern sea otters. Since sea otters typically inhabit 
nearshore marine areas, shoreline length is a readily available metric 
that can be used to quantify sea otter habitat. The total length of 
shoreline within the range of the Southcentral Alaska stock of northern 
sea otters is approximately 2,575 km (1,600 mi), of which 540 km (335.5 
mi) are located within Cook Inlet. Of that, the total length of 
shoreline for the proposed activities is approximately 84 km (52.2 mi), 
which is a small percentage of the total shoreline habitat available to 
the Southcentral sea otter stock. Any potential impacts to prey caused 
by the proposed activities would occur in the limited area of the 
shoreline habitat.
    (3) Monitoring requirements and mitigation measures are expected to 
limit the number of incidental takes. Level A harassment (harassment 
that has the potential to injure sea otters) is not authorized. If a 
sea otter was observed within or approaching the 180 dB re 1 mPa 
exposure area of the various gun arrays, avoidance measures would be 
taken, such as decreasing the speed of the vessel and/or implementing a 
power down or shutdown of the airguns. All nearshore vessel operations 
associated with marine geophone placements would be monitored by onsite 
observers. Power-up and ramp-up procedures would prevent Level A 
harassment and limit the number of incidental takes by Level B 
harassment by affording time for sea otters to leave the area. 
Monitoring and mitigation measures are thus expected to prevent any 
Level A harassment and to minimize Level B harassment. Further, 
monitoring and reporting of sea otter activity in proximity to 
activities will allow the Service to reanalyze and possibly refine and 
adjust future take estimates as exploration activities continue in sea 
otter habitat into the future.
    The mitigation measures outlined above are intended to minimize the 
number of sea otters that may be disturbed by the proposed activity. 
Any impacts on individuals are expected to be limited to Level B 
harassment and to be of short-term duration. No take by injury or death 
is anticipated or authorized. Should the Service determine, based on 
the monitoring and reporting to be conducted throughout the survey 
activities, that the effects are greater than anticipated, the 
authorization may be modified, suspended, or revoked.

Negligible Impact

    The Service finds that any incidental ``take by harassment'' that 
may result from this proposed seismic survey cannot be reasonably 
expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the 
species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or 
survival, and would, therefore, have no more than a negligible impact 
on the stock. In making this finding, we considered the best available 
scientific information, including: (1) The biological and behavioral 
characteristics of the species; (2) the most recent information on 
distribution and abundance of sea otters within the area of the 
proposed activity; (3) the potential sources of short-term disturbance 
during the proposed activity; and (4) the potential response of sea 
otters to this short-term disturbance. In addition, we conducted a 
thorough review of material supplied by the applicants, information 
from other operators in Cook Inlet, our files and datasets, data 
acquired from NMFS, and published reference materials. We

[[Page 51598]]

also consulted with other sea otter experts in the Cook Inlet area, 
including the Service and NMFS researchers and local residents.
    Limited evidence (Riedman 1983, 1984) suggests that sea otters are 
not particularly sensitive to or adversely affected by sound. Responses 
of sea otters to disturbance would most likely be diving and/or 
swimming away from the sound source, which may entail the temporary, 
but not sustained, interruption of foraging, breeding, resting, or 
other natural behaviors. Thus, although 1,396 sea otters (approximately 
8 percent of the population) are estimated to be potentially taken 
(i.e., potentially disturbed) by Level B harassment by means of 
exposure to sound levels of 160dB re 1 mPa or greater but less than 190 
dB for the duration of the project, we do not expect that this type of 
harassment would result in adverse effects on the species or stock 
through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.
    Our finding of negligible impact applies to incidental take 
associated with the proposed activities as mitigated through this 
authorization process. These authorizations establish monitoring and 
reporting requirements to evaluate the potential impacts of the 
proposed activities, as well as mitigation measures designed to 
minimize interactions with, and impacts to, sea otters.

Impact on Subsistence

    We find that the anticipated harassment caused by the proposed 
activities would not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of sea otters for taking for subsistence uses. In making 
this finding, we considered the timing and location of the proposed 
activities and the timing and location of subsistence harvest 
activities and patterns, as reported through the MTRP, in the proposed 
project area, as well as the applicants' consultation with potentially 
affected subsistence communities. More information can be found on our 
Web site at http://www.fws.gov/alaska/fisheries/mmm/iha.htm.
    The Service finds that the proposed activities will have a 
negligible impact on small numbers of sea otters in Southcentral Alaska 
and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of 
the stock for subsistence uses. Further, we have prescribed permissible 
methods of take, means to have the least practicable impact on the 
stock and its habitat, and monitoring requirements.

[[Page 51599]]



Required Determinations

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

    We have prepared Environmental Assessments (EA) in accordance with 
the NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.). We have concluded that approval and 
issuance of these authorizations for the nonlethal, incidental, 
unintentional take by Level B harassment of small numbers of northern 
sea otters (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) in the Southcentral Alaska stock 
during oil and gas industry exploration activities in the lower Cook 
Inlet of Alaska would not significantly affect the quality of the human 
environment, and that the preparation of Environmental Impact 
Statements on these actions is not required by section 102(2) of the 
NEPA or its implementing regulations. For a copy of the EAs, go to 
http://www.regulations.gov and search for Docket No. FWS-R7-ES-2014-
0031, go to http://www.fws.gov/alaska/fisheries/mmm/iha.htm, or contact 
the individual identified above in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

    The proposed activities will occur entirely within the range of the 
Southcentral Alaska stock of the northern sea otter, which is not 
listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA.

Government-to-Government Relations With Native American Tribal 

    In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994, 
``Government to Government Relations with Native American Tribal 
Governments'' (59 FR 22951), Executive Order 13175, Department of the 
Interior Secretarial Order 3225 of January 19, 2001 [Endangered Species 
Act and Subsistence Uses in Alaska (Supplement to Secretarial Order 
3206)], Department of the Interior Secretarial Order 3317 of December 
1, 2011 (Tribal Consultation and Policy), Department of the Interior 
Memorandum of January 18, 2001 (Alaska Government-to-Government 
Policy), the Department of the Interior's manual at 512 DM 2, and the 
Native American Policy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, June 28, 
1994, we readily acknowledge our responsibility to communicate and work 
directly on a Government to Government basis with federally recognized 
Alaska Natives Tribes in developing programs for healthy ecosystems, to 
seek their full and meaningful participation in evaluating and 
addressing conservation concerns for listed species, to remain 
sensitive to Alaska Native culture, and to make information available 
to Alaska Natives.
    We have evaluated possible effects on federally recognized Alaska 
Native Tribes. Through the IHA process identified in the MMPA, Industry 
presents a communication process, culminating in a Plan of Cooperation 
(POC), if warranted, with the Native communities most likely to be 
affected and engages these communities in numerous informational 
    Through various interactions and partnerships, we have determined 
that the issuance of these IHAs is appropriate. We are open to 
discussing ways to continually improve our coordination and information 
exchange, including through the IHA/POC process, as may be requested by 
Tribes or other Native groups.

[[Page 51600]]

Proposed Authorization

    The Service proposes to issue BlueCrest Energy, Inc., Apache Alaska 
Corporation, and SAExploration, Inc., LLC, individual IHAs for the 
nonlethal, incidental, unintentional take by Level B harassment of 
small numbers of northern sea otters (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) in the 
Southcentral Alaska stock during industry exploration activities in the 
lower Cook Inlet of Alaska, as described in this document and in their 
individual applications. We neither anticipate nor propose 
authorization for take by injury or death. The final IHAs would be 
effective for 1 year after the date of issuance. Authorization for 
incidental take beyond the period specified in the final IHA will 
require application for a new IHA.
    The final IHA for each applicant will also incorporate the 
mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements described in this 
proposal. The applicants will be expected and required to implement and 
fully comply with those requirements. These IHAs will not authorize the 
intentional take of northern sea otters, nor take by injury or death.
    If the nature or level of activity changes or exceeds that 
described in this proposal and in the individual applications for IHAs, 
or the nature or level of take exceeds that projected in this proposal, 
the Service will reevaluate its findings. The Secretary may modify, 
suspend, or revoke these authorizations if the findings are not 
accurate or the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements 
described herein are not being met.

Request for Public Comments

    The Service requests interested persons to submit comments and 
information concerning these proposed IHAs. Consistent with section 
101(a)(5)(D)(iii) of the MMPA, we are opening the comment period on 
this proposed authorization for 30 days (see DATES).
    Before including your address, phone number, email address, or 
other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be 
aware that your entire comment--including your personal identifying 
information--may be made publicly available at any time. While you can 
ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be 
able to do so.

    Dated: August 1, 2014.
Geoffrey L. Haskett,
Regional Director, Alaska Region.
[FR Doc. 2014-20618 Filed 8-28-14; 8:45 am]