[Federal Register: June 1, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 105)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 30669-30700]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 30669]]


Part II

Department of the Interior


Fish and Wildlife Service


50 CFR Part 18

 Marine Mammals; Incidental Take During Specified Activities; Proposed 

[[Page 30670]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 18

RIN 1018-AU41

Marine Mammals; Incidental Take During Specified Activities

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule; notice of proposed incidental harassment 
authorization; request for comments.


SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) proposes regulations 
that would authorize the nonlethal, incidental, unintentional take of 
small numbers of Pacific walruses (walruses) and polar bears during 
year-round oil and gas industry (Industry) exploration activities in 
the Chukchi Sea and adjacent western coast of Alaska. We are proposing 
that this rule be effective for 5 years from date of issuance. We 
propose a finding that the total expected takings of walruses and polar 
bears during oil and gas industry exploration activities will have a 
negligible impact on these species and will not have an unmitigable 
adverse impact on the availability of these species for subsistence use 
by Alaska Natives. The regulations that we propose to issue include 
permissible methods of nonlethal taking, measures to ensure the least 
practicable adverse impact on the species and the availability of these 
species for subsistence uses, and requirements for monitoring and 
reporting. If the proposed regulations are issued, we can issue Letters 
of Authorization to conduct activities under the provisions of these 
regulations when requested by citizens of the United States. We are 
seeking public comments on this proposed rule.
    In addition, the Service proposes to issue authorizations to take 
small numbers of marine mammals by harassment incidental to conducting 
exploration activities during the 2007 open-water season for oil and 
gas operators (Incidental Harassment Authorization). These activities 
will be carried out from approximately July 1 through November 30, 
2007. The authorizations we propose to issue will also include 
permissible methods of nonlethal taking, measures to ensure the least 
practicable adverse impact on the species and the availability of these 
species for subsistence uses, and requirements for monitoring and 
reporting. We are seeking public comments on this proposal.

DATES: Comments on this proposed rule, the proposed issuance of 
incidental harassment authorization, and the draft Environmental 
Assessment, must be received by July 2, 2007. Comments on the 
information collection requirements must be submitted on or before July 
31, 2007.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by any of the following methods for 
the proposed rule, identified by RIN 1018-AU41, or for the incidental 
harassment authorization:
     Mail: Craig Perham, Office of Marine Mammals Management, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1011 East Tudor Road, Anchorage, AK 
     Fax: 907-786-3816.
     Hand Delivery/Courier: Office of Marine Mammals 
Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1011 East Tudor Road, 
Anchorage, Alaska 99503.
     E-mail: R7_MMM_Comment@fws.gov. Please submit Internet 
comments as an ASCII file avoiding the use of special characters and 
any form of encryption. Please also include ``Attn: RIN 1018-AU41'' in 
the subject line and your name and return address in your Internet 
message. If you do not receive a confirmation from the system that we 
have received your Internet message, contact us directly at U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service, Office of Marine Mammals Management, 907-786-3810 
or 1-800-362-5148.
    Comments on the proposed rule, identified by RIN 1018-AU41, may 
also be submitted by the following method:
     Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. 

Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
    Please indicate to which action, RIN 1018-AU41 or incidental 
harassment authorization, your comments apply.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Craig Perham, Office of Marine Mammals 
Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1011 East Tudor Road, 
Anchorage, AK 99503, telephone 907-786-3810 or 1-800-362-5148, or e-
mail R7_MMM_Comment@fws.gov.



    Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) (16 
U.S.C. 1371(a)(5)(A)) gives the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) 
through the Director of the Service (we) the authority to allow the 
incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine 
mammals, in response to requests by U.S. citizens (you) [as defined in 
50 CFR 18.27(c)] engaged in a specified activity (other than commercial 
fishing) in a specified geographic region. According to the MMPA, we 
shall allow this incidental taking if (1) we make a finding that the 
total of such taking for the 5-year regulatory period will have no more 
than a negligible impact on these species and will not have an 
unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of these species for 
taking for subsistence use by Alaska Natives, and (2) we issue 
regulations that set forth (i) permissible methods of taking, (ii) 
means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on the species 
and their habitat and on the availability of the species for 
subsistence uses, and (iii) requirements for monitoring and reporting. 
If regulations allowing such incidental taking are issued, we can issue 
Letters of Authorization (LOA) to conduct activities under the 
provisions of these regulations when requested by citizens of the 
United States.
    The term ``take,'' as defined by the MMPA, means to harass, hunt, 
capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any 
marine mammal. Harassment, as defined by the MMPA, for activities other 
than military readiness activities or scientific research conducted by 
or on behalf of the federal government, 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 
    The terms ``small numbers,'' ``negligible impact,'' and 
``unmitigable adverse impact'' are defined in 50 CFR 18.27 (i.e., 
regulations governing small takes of marine mammals incidental to 
specified activities) as follows. ``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.'' ``Negligible impact'' is 
``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'' means ``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

[[Page 30671]]

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 met.''
    Industry conducts activities such as oil and gas exploration in 
marine mammal habitat that could result in the taking of marine 
mammals. Although Industry is under no legal requirement to obtain 
incidental take authorization, since 1991, Industry has requested, and 
we have issued regulations for, incidental take authorization for 
conducting activities in areas of walrus and polar bear habitat. 
Incidental take regulations for walruses and polar bears in the Chukchi 
Sea were issued previously for the period 1991-1996 (56 FR 27443; June 
14, 1991). In the Beaufort Sea, incidental take regulations have been 
issued previously from 1993 to present: November 16, 1993 (58 FR 
60402); August 17, 1995 (60 FR 42805); January 28, 1999 (64 FR 4328); 
February 3, 2000 (65 FR 5275); March 30, 2000 (65 FR 16828); November 
28, 2003 (68 FR 66744); and August 2, 2006 (71 FR 43926).

Summary of Current Request

    On August 5, 2005, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association (AOGA), on 
behalf of its members, (Agrium Kenai Nitrogen Operations, Alyeska 
Pipeline Service Company, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, BP 
Exploration (Alaska) Inc., Chevron, Eni Petroleum, ExxonMobil 
Production Company, Flint Hills Resources, Alaska, Forest Oil 
Corporation, Marathon Oil Company, Petro-Canada (Alaska) Inc., Petro 
Star Inc., Pioneer Natural Resources Alaska, Inc., Shell Exploration & 
Production Company, Tesoro Alaska Company, and XTO Energy, Inc.) 
requested that the Service promulgate regulations to allow the 
nonlethal, incidental take of small numbers of walruses and polar bears 
in the Chukchi Sea for a period of 5 years. The Service requested 
additional information from AOGA regarding the nature, scope, and 
location of proposed activities for its analysis of potential impacts 
on walruses, polar bears, and subsistence harvests of these resources. 
On November 22, 2006, Shell Offshore Inc. (SOI) provided an addendum to 
the AOGA petition describing SOI's projected activities for 2007-2012.
    On January 2, 2007, AOGA, on behalf of its members, also provided 
an addendum to its original petition referencing a Draft Environmental 
Impact Statement prepared by the MMS for the Chukchi Sea Planning Area: 
Oil and Gas Lease Sale 193 and Seismic Surveying Activities in the 
Chukchi Sea (Chukchi Sea DEIS). The Chukchi Sea DEIS includes estimates 
of all reasonably foreseeable oil and gas activities associated with 
proposed Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) lease sales in the Chukchi Sea 
Planning Area. The AOGA petition requested that the Service consider 
activities described in the Chukchi Sea DEIS for the period 2007-2012. 
On January 2, 2007, ConocoPhillips Alaska, Inc. (CPAI), also provided 
an addendum to the original AOGA petition describing CPAI's projected 
activities from 2007-2012. The petition and addendums are available at: 
(Alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/itr.htm). The Chukchi Sea DEIS, 
referenced in the AOGA petition, is available at: http://www.mms.gov/alaska
 (OCS EIS/EA MMS 2006-060).

    The combined requests are for regulations to allow the incidental, 
nonlethal take of small numbers of walruses and polar bears in 
association with oil and gas activities in the Chukchi Sea and adjacent 
coastline projected out to the year 2012. The information provided by 
the petitioners indicates that projected oil and gas activities over 
this timeframe will be limited to offshore and onshore exploration 
activities. Development and production activities were not considered 
in the requests. The petitioners have also specifically requested that 
these regulations be issued for nonlethal take. Industry has indicated 
that, through implementation of the mitigation measures, it is 
confident a lethal take will not occur.
    Prior to issuing regulations at 50 CFR part 18, subpart I in 
response to this request, we must evaluate the level of industrial 
activities, their associated potential impacts to walruses and polar 
bears, and their effects on the availability of these species for 
subsistence use. All projected exploration activities described by SOI, 
CPAI, and AOGA (on behalf of its members) in their petitions, as well 
as projections of reasonably foreseeable activities for the period 
2007-2012 described in the Chukchi Sea DEIS were considered in our 
analysis. The activities and geographic region specified in the 
requests, and considered in these regulations are described in the 
ensuing sections titled ``Description of Geographic Region'' and 
``Description of Activities.''
    This proposed rule also serves as the proposed incidental 
harassment authorization (IHA) under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA. 
If this proposed rule is finalized, incidental take of small numbers of 
polar bears and walrus resulting from oil and gas exploration 
activities in the Chukchi Sea will be authorized under LOAs issued 
pursuant to section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA. However, operators are 
proposing to begin oil and gas exploration activities in July of 2007, 
which will likely be before the Service makes a final determination 
under the section 101(a)(5)(A) regulatory process. Therefore, this 
proposed rule also serves as the proposed IHA that, if finalized, will 
authorize the incidental take by harassment of small numbers of 
walruses and polar bears from oil and gas exploration activities in the 
Chukchi Sea during the 2007 exploration season.
    The proposed rule can serve as both the proposed rule under section 
101(a)(5)(A) and the proposed IHA under section 101(a)(5)(D) because 
the standards are the same and the procedures are compatible. 
Incidental take authorization is available under both provisions if the 
Service finds that the anticipated take will have a negligible impact 
on the species or stock and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact 
on the availability of the species or stock for subsistence uses. Both 
types of authorization would include permissible methods of taking and 
other means of effecting the least practicable impact on the species or 
stock and its habitat and on the availability of the species or stock 
for taking for subsistence uses, any measures necessary to ensure no 
unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock 
for taking for subsistence uses, and requirements for monitoring and 
reporting of any taking that does occur.
    The differences between the two provisions are procedural. A final 
IHA would be issued without further notice in the Federal Register, 
following consideration of all comments received during the public 
comment period, if the Service finds that the anticipated level of take 
meets the statutory standards. An IHA can only be issued for up to one 
year, compared to the five-year period of the regulatory process. Also, 
an IHA can only be issued if the Service finds that no lethal take is 
likely to occur as a result of the anticipated oil and gas exploration 
activities. Here the Service would be issuing an IHA for the 2007 
exploration season. If a final rule is published in the Federal 
Register finding that the anticipated take during the full five-year 
period meets the statutory standards, Letters of Authorization will 
replace the one-year IHA that will be issued to operators if the 
Service makes final determinations that the take that is anticipated to 
result from the 2007 activities meets the statutory standards.

[[Page 30672]]

    The Description of Activities section of the proposed rule 
describes the oil and gas exploration activities that will occur during 
the 2007 season, as well as during the consecutive years of the 
regulatory period. The Description of Geographic Region section 
describes the geographic area in which exploration activities will be 
conducted in 2007, as well as during the other years of the regulatory 
period. The Mitigation Measures for Oil and Gas Exploration Activities 
section describes the mitigating measures and monitoring and reporting 
requirements that will be required in 2007 as conditions of the IHA. 
The potential Effects of Oil and Gas Industry Activities on Pacific 
Walruses and Polar Bears section, the Potential Effects of Oil and Gas 
Industry Activities on Subsistence Uses of Pacific Walruses and Polar 
Bears section, and the Summary of Take Estimated for Pacific Walruses 
and Polar Bears section analyze the type and level of take of polar 
bears and walrus that is anticipated to occur during the 2007 
exploration season, as well as during the other years of the regulatory 
period. The public comment period announced with this proposed rule 
also serves as the public comment period for the proposed IHA. If the 
Service makes a final determination that the anticipated level of take 
meets the standards under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, it will 
issue an IHA with all required conditions to oil and gas operators for 
the 2007 exploration season no later than 45 days after the close of 
the comment period.

Description of Regulations

    The proposed regulations are limited to the nonlethal, incidental 
take of small numbers of walruses and polar bears associated with oil 
and gas exploration activities (geophysical seismic surveys, 
exploratory drilling, and associated support activities) in the Chukchi 
Sea and adjacent coast of Alaska and would be effective for a period of 
up to 5 years from the date of issuance. The geographic region, as 
outlined in the ``Description of Geographic Region,'' and the type of 
industrial activities, as outlined in the ``Description of Activities'' 
section were assessed in these regulations. No development or 
production activities are anticipated over this timeframe, or 
considered in the proposed regulations.
    The total estimated level of activity covered by these regulations, 
as outlined in the ``Description of Activities'' section, was based on 
all projected exploration activities described by SOI, CPAI, and AOGA 
(on behalf of its members) in their petitions, as well as projections 
of reasonably foreseeable activities for the period 2007-2012 described 
in the Chukchi Sea DEIS referenced by the petitioners. If the level of 
activity is more than anticipated, such as additional support vessels 
or aircraft, more drilling units, or more miles of geophysical surveys, 
the Service would reevaluate its findings to determine if they continue 
to be appropriate.
    It is important to note that these regulations would not authorize, 
or ``permit,'' the actual activities associated with oil and gas 
exploration in the Chukchi Sea. Rather, they would authorize the 
nonlethal incidental, unintentional take of small numbers of walruses 
and polar bears associated with those activities based on standards set 
forth in the MMPA. The petition does not request promulgation of 
regulations for the incidental taking from development or production 
activities in the Chukchi Sea. The MMS, the U.S. Army Corps of 
Engineers, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are responsible for 
permitting activities associated with oil and gas activities in Federal 
waters and on Federal lands. The State of Alaska is responsible for 
permitting activities on State lands and in State waters.
    The regulations that we propose to issue include permissible 
methods of nonlethal taking, measures to ensure the least practicable 

adverse impact on the species and the availability of these species for 
subsistence uses, and requirements for monitoring and reporting. If we 
issue final nonlethal incidental take regulations, persons seeking 
taking authorization for particular projects must apply for an LOA to 
cover nonlethal take associated with specified exploration activities 
pursuant to the regulations. Each group or individual conducting an oil 
and gas industry-related activity within the area covered by these 
regulations may request an LOA.
    A separate LOA will be required for each geophysical survey or 
seismic activity and each exploratory drilling operation. Applications 
for LOAs must be received at least 90 days before the activity is to 
begin. Applicants for LOAs must submit an Operations Plan for the 
activity, a polar bear interaction plan, and a site-specific marine 
mammal monitoring and mitigation plan to monitor the effects of 
authorized activities on walruses and polar bears. A report on all 
exploration and monitoring activities must be submitted to the Service 
within 90 days after the completed activity. Details of monitoring and 
reporting requirements are further described in ``Potential Effects of 
Oil and Gas Industry Activities on Pacific Walruses and Polar Bears.''
    Depending upon the nature, timing, and location of a proposed 
activity, applicants may also be required to develop a Plan of 
Cooperation (POC) with potentially affected subsistence communities to 
minimize interactions with subsistence users. The POC is further 
described in ``Potential Effects of Oil and Gas Industry Activities on 
Subsistence Uses of Pacific Walruses and Polar Bears.''
    Each request for an LOA will be evaluated based upon the specific 
activity and the specific location, and each authorization will 
identify allowable methods or conditions specific to that activity and 
location. For example, we will consider seasonal or location-specific 
restrictions to limit interactions between exploration activities and 
walrus aggregations, or interference with subsistence hunting 
activities. Individual LOAs will include monitoring and reporting 
requirements specific to each activity, as well as any measures 
necessary for mitigating impacts to these species and the subsistence 
use of these species. The granting of each LOA will be based on a 
determination that the total level of taking by all applicants in any 
one year is consistent with the estimated level used to make a finding 
of negligible impact and a finding of no unmitigable adverse impacts on 
the availability of the species or the stock for subsistence uses. 
Notice of issuance of LOAs will be published in the Federal Register. 
More information on applying for and receiving an LOA can be found at 
50 CFR 18.27(f).

Description of Geographic Region

    These regulations would allow Industry to incidentally take small 
numbers of Pacific walruses and polar bears within the same area, 
hereafter referred to as the Chukchi Sea Region (Figure 1). The 
geographic area covered by the request is the continental shelf of the 
Arctic Ocean adjacent to western Alaska. This area includes the waters 
(State of Alaska and OCS waters) and seabed of the Chukchi Sea, which 
encompasses all waters north and west of Point Hope (68[deg]20'20'' N, 
-166 [deg]50'40 W, BGN 1947) to the U.S.-Russia Convention Line of 
1867, west of a north-south line through Point Barrow (71[deg]23'29'' 
N, -156 [deg]28'30 W, BGN 1944), and up to 200 miles north of Point 
Barrow. The region also includes the terrestrial coastal land 25 miles 
inland between the western boundary of the south National Petroleum 
Reserve--Alaska (NPR-A) near Icy Cape

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(70[deg]20'00'', -148[deg]12'00) and the north-south line from Point 
Barrow. The geographic region encompasses an area of approximately 
5,850 square miles. This terrestrial region encompasses a portion of 
the Northwest and South Planning Areas of the NPR-A. The north-south 
line at Point Barrow is the western border of the geographic region in 
the Beaufort Sea incidental take regulations (71 FR 43926; August 2, 

Description of Activities

    This section reviews the types and scale of oil and gas activities 
projected to occur in the Chukchi Sea Region over the specified time 
period (2007-2012). This information is based upon information provided 
by the petitioners and referenced in the Chukchi Sea DEIS. The Service 
has used these estimated levels of activity as a basis for its 
findings. If requests for LOAs exceed the highest estimated level of 
activity, the Service would reevaluate its findings to determine if 
they continue to be appropriate before further LOAs are issued. 
Specific locations where oil and gas activity may occur over the 
proposed regulatory period are largely speculative, but are within the 
geographic region identified and analyzed in these regulations. They 
will be determined, in part, on the outcome of future Federal and State 
oil and gas lease sales. The specific dates and durations of the 
individual operations and their geographic locations will be provided 
to the Service in detail when requests for LOAs are submitted.
    Oil and gas activities anticipated and considered in our analysis 
of proposed incidental take regulations include: (1) Marine-streamer 3D 
and 2D seismic surveys; (2) high-resolution site-clearance surveys; (3) 
offshore exploration drilling; and (4) onshore seismic exploration and 

Marine-Streamer 3D and 2D Seismic Surveys

    Marine seismic surveys are conducted to locate geological 
structures potentially capable of containing petroleum accumulations. 
Air guns are the typical acoustic (sound) source for 2-dimensional and 
3-dimensional (2D and 3D) seismic surveys. An outgoing sound signal is 
created by venting high-pressure air from the air guns into the water 
to produce an air-filled cavity (bubble) that expands and contracts. 
The size of individual air guns can range from tens to several hundred 
cubic inches (in3). A group of air guns is usually deployed 
in an array to produce a downward-focused sound signal. Air gun array 
volumes for both 2D and 3D seismic surveys are expected to range from 
1,800-6,000 in3. The air guns are fired at short, regular 
intervals, so the arrays emit pulsed rather than continuous sound. 
While most of the energy is focused downward and the short duration of 
each pulse limits the total energy into the water column, the sound can 
propagate horizontally for several kilometers.
    A 3D source array typically consists of two to three sub-arrays of 
six to nine air guns each, and is about 12.5-18 meters (m) long and 16-
36 m wide. The size of the source-array can vary during the seismic 
survey to optimize the resolution of the geophysical data collected at 
any particular site. Vessels usually tow up to three source arrays, 
depending on the survey-design specifications. Most 3D operations use a 
single source vessel; however, in a few instances, more than one source 
vessel may be used. The sound-source level (zero-to-peak) associated 
with typical 3D seismic surveys ranges between 233 and 240 decibels at 
1 meter (re 1 [mu]Pa at 1 m).
    The vessels conducting 3D surveys are generally 70-90 m long. 
Surveys are typically acquired at a vessel speed of approximately 4.5 
knots (k) (8.3 km/hour). Source arrays are activated approximately 
every 10-15 seconds, depending on vessel speed. The timing between 
outgoing sound signals can vary for different surveys to achieve the 
desired ``shot point'' spacing to meet the geological objectives of the 
survey; typical spacing is either 25 or 37.5 m. The receiving arrays 
could include multiple (4-16) streamer-receiver cables towed behind the 
source array. Streamer cables contain numerous hydrophone elements at 
fixed distances within each cable. Each streamer can be 3-8 km long 
with an overall array width of up to 1,500 m between outermost streamer 
cables. Biodegradable liquid paraffin is used to fill the streamer and 
provide buoyancy. Solid/gel streamer cables also are used. The wide 
extent of this towed equipment limits both the turning speed and the 
area a vessel covers with a single pass over a geologic target. It is, 
therefore, common practice to acquire data using an offset racetrack 
pattern. Adjacent transit lines for a survey generally are spaced 
several hundred meters apart and are parallel to each other across the 
survey area. Seismic surveys are conducted day and night when ocean 
conditions are favorable, and one survey effort may continue for weeks 
or months, depending on the size of the survey. Data-acquisition is 
affected by the arrays towed by the survey vessel and weather 
conditions. Typically, data are only collected between 25 and 30 
percent of the time (or 6-8 hours a day) because of equipment or 
weather problems. In addition to downtime due to weather, sea 
conditions, turning between lines, and equipment maintenance, surveys 
could be suspended to avoid interactions with biological resources. The 
MMS estimates that individual surveys could last between 20-30 days 
(with downtime) to cover a 200 square mile (mi2) area.
    Marine-streamer 2D surveys use similar geophysical-survey 
techniques as 3D surveys, but both the mode of operation and general 
vessel type used are different. The 2D surveys provide a less-detailed 
subsurface image because the survey lines are spaced farther apart, but 
they cover wider areas to image geologic structure on more of a 
regional basis. Large prospects are easily identified on 2D seismic 
data, but detailed images of the prospective areas within a large 
prospect can only be seen using 3D data. The 2D seismic-survey vessels 
generally are smaller than 3D-survey vessels, although larger 3D-survey 
vessels are also capable of conducting 2D surveys. The 2D source array 
typically consists of three or more sub-arrays of six to eight air gun 
sources each. The sound-source level (zero-to-peak) associated with 2D 
marine seismic surveys are the same as 3D marine seismic surveys (233-
240 dB re 1 [mu]Pa at 1 m). Typically, a single hydrophone streamer 
cable approximately 8-12 km long is towed behind the survey vessel. The 
2D surveys acquire data along single track lines that are spread more 
widely apart (usually several miles) than are track lines for 3D 
surveys (usually several hundred meters).
    Both 3D and 2D marine-streamer surveys require a largely ice-free 
environment to allow effective operation and maneuvering of the air gun 
arrays and long streamers. In the Chukchi Sea Region, the timing and 
areas of the surveys will be dictated by ice conditions. The data-
acquisition season in the Chukchi Sea could start sometime in July and 
end sometime in early November. Even during the short summer season, 
there are periodic incursions of sea ice, so there is no guarantee that 
any given location will be ice free throughout the survey.
    Marine seismic-exploration work is expected to occur in the Chukchi 
Sea Region in the summer of 2007 in anticipation of OCS lease sale 193. 
This work is likely to include 3D seismic surveys, but will not include 
exploration drilling. Approximately 100,000 line-miles of 2D seismic 
surveys already have been collected in the Chukchi Sea program area, so 

[[Page 30674]]

MMS assumes that additional geophysical surveys will be primarily 3D 
surveys focusing on specific leasing targets. The 3D surveys are likely 
to continue during the early phase of exploration when wells are 
drilled; however, the number of surveys is expected to decrease over 
time as data is collected over the prime prospects and these prospects 
are tested by drilling.
    Based upon information provided by the petitioners, and estimates 
prepared by the MMS in the Chukchi Sea DEIS, the Service estimates 
that, in any given year during the specified timeframe (2007-2012), up 
to four seismic survey vessels could be operating simultaneously in the 
Chukchi Sea Region during the open water season. Each seismic vessel is 
expected to collect between 3,200-14,500 linear kilometers of seismic 
survey data. Seismic surveys are expected to occur in open water 
conditions between July 1 and November 30 each year. We estimate that 
each seismic survey vessel will be accompanied or serviced by 1-3 
support vessels. Helicopters may also be used, when available, for 
vessel support and crew changes.

High-Resolution Site-Clearance Surveys

    Based on mapping of the subsurface structures using 2D and 3D 
seismic data, several well locations may be proposed. Prior to drilling 
deep test wells, high-resolution site clearance seismic surveys and 
geotechnical studies will be necessary to examine the proposed 
exploration drilling locations for geologic hazards, archeological 
features, and biological populations. Site clearance and studies 
required for exploration will be conducted during the open water season 
before a drill rig is mobilized to the site. A typical operation 
consists of a vessel towing an acoustic source (air gun) about 25 m 
behind the ship and a 600-m streamer cable with a tail buoy. The source 
array usually is a single array composed of one or more air guns. A 2D 
high-resolution site-clearance survey usually has a single air gun, 
while a 3D high-resolution site survey usually tows an array of air 
guns. The ships travel at 3-3.5 knots (5.6-6.5 km/hour), and the source 
is activated every 7-8 seconds (or about every 12.5 m). All vessel 
operations are designed to be ultra-quiet, as the higher frequencies 
used in high-resolution work are easily masked by the vessel noise. 
Typical surveys cover one OCS block at a time. MMS regulations require 
information be gathered on a 300 by 900 m grid, which amounts to about 
129 line kilometers of data per lease block. If there is a high 
probability of archeological resources, the north-south lines are 50 m 
apart and the 900 m remains the same. Including line turns, the time to 
survey a lease block is approximately 36 hours. Air gun volumes for 
high-resolution surveys typically are 90-150 in3, and the 
output of a 90-in3 air gun ranges from 229-233 dB high-
resolution re 1 [mu]Pa at 1m. Air gun pressures typically are 2,000 psi 
(pounds per square inch), although they can be used at 3,000 psi for 
higher signal strength to collect data from deep in the subsurface.
    Based upon information provided by the petitioners, and estimates 
prepared by the MMS in the Chukchi Sea DEIS, we estimate that during 
the specified timeframe (2007-2012), as many as six high-resolution 
site surveys may be carried out in any given year.

Offshore Drilling Operations

    Considering water depth and the remoteness of this area, drilling 
operations are most likely to employ drill-ships with ice-breaker 
support vessels. Water depths greater than 100 feet and possible pack-
ice incursions during the open-water season will preclude the use of 
bottom-founded platforms as exploration drilling rigs. Using drill-
ships allows the operator to temporarily move off the drill-site if sea 
or ice conditions require it, and the suspended well is controlled by 
blowout-prevention equipment installed on wellheads on the seabed. 
Drilling operations are expected to range between 30 and 90 days at 
different well sites, depending on the depth to the target formation, 
difficulties during drilling, and logging/testing operations. Drill-
ships operate only during the open-water season, and drifting ice can 
prevent their operation.
    A drill-ship is secured over the drill-site by deploying anchors on 
as many as ten to twelve mooring lines. The drill pipe is encased in a 
riser that compensates for the vertical wave motion. The blowout 
preventer (BOP) is typically located at the seabed in a hole dug below 
the ice-scour depth. BOP placement is an important safety feature 
enabling the drill-ship to shut down operations and get underway 
rapidly without exposing the well. One or more ice management vessels 
(icebreakers) generally support drill-ships to ensure ice does not 
encroach on operations. A barge and tug typically accompany the vessels 
to provide a standby safety vessel, oil spill response capabilities, 
and refueling support. Most supplies (including fuel) necessary to 
complete drilling activities are stored on the drill-ship and support 
vessels. Helicopter servicing of drill-ships can occur as frequently as 
1-2 times/day. The abandonment phase is initiated if exploratory wells 
are not successful. In a typical situation, wells are permanently 
plugged (with cement) and wellhead equipment removed. The seafloor site 
is restored to some practicable, pre-exploration condition. Post-
abandonment surveys are conducted to confirm that no debris remains 
following abandonment or those materials remain at the lease tract. The 
casings for delineation wells are either cut mechanically or with 
explosives during the process of well abandonment. The MMS estimates 
that exploration wells will average 8,000 ft, will use approximately 
475 tons (ton = 2,000 pounds) of dry mud, and produce 600 tons of dry 
rock cuttings. Considering the cost of synthetic drilling fluids now 
commonly used, the MMS assumes that most of the drilling mud will be 
reconditioned and reused. All of the rock cuttings will be discharged 
at the exploration site.
    Considering the relatively short open-water season in the Chukchi 
Sea (July-November), the MMS estimates that up to four wells could be 
started by one rig each drilling season. However, it is more likely 
that only one to two wells could be drilled, tested, and abandoned by 
one drill ship in any given season, leaving work on the other wells to 
the next summer season. A total of 5 exploration wells have been 
drilled on the Chukchi shelf, and the MMS estimates that 7-14 
additional wells will be needed to discover and delineate a commercial 
    Based upon information provided by the petitioners, and estimates 
prepared by the MMS in the Chukchi Sea DEIS, we estimate that as many 
as five drill-ships could be operating in the Chukchi Sea Region in any 
given year during the specified timeframe (2007-2012). Each drill-ship 
is expected to drill up to four exploratory or delineation wells per 
season. Each drill-ship is likely to be supported by 1-2 ice breakers, 
a barge and tug, 1-2 helicopter flights per day, and 1-2 supply ships 
per week. The operating season is expected to be limited to the open-
water season July 1-November 30.

Onshore Seismic Exploration and Drilling

    The CPAI petition also describes conducting onshore seismic 
exploration and drilling over the next five years, including 
geotechnical site investigations, vibroseis, construction of ice pads, 
roads, and islands, and exploratory drilling.
    Geotechnical site investigations include shallow cores and soil 

[[Page 30675]]

to investigate soil conditions and stratigraphy. Geotechnical 
properties at select points may be integrated with seismic data to 
develop a regional model for predicting soil conditions in areas of 
    Vibroseis seismic operations are conducted both onshore and on 
nearshore ice using large trucks with vibrators that systematically put 
variable frequency energy into the earth. A minimum of 1.2 m (4 ft) of 
sea ice is required to support heavy vehicles used to transport 
equipment offshore for exploration activities. These ice conditions 
generally exist from 1 January until 31 May. The exploration techniques 
are most commonly used on landfast ice, but they can be used in areas 
of stable offshore pack ice. Several vehicles are normally associated 
with a typical vibroseis operation. One or two vehicles with survey 
crews move ahead of the operation and mark the source receiver points. 
Occasionally, bulldozers are needed to build snow ramps on the steep 
terrain or to smooth offshore rough ice within the site.
    A typical wintertime exploration seismic crew consists of 40-140 
personnel. Roughly 75 percent of the personnel routinely work on the 
active seismic crew, with approximately 50 percent of those working in 
vehicles and the remainder outside laying and retrieving geophones and 
    With the vibroseis technique, activity on the surveyed seismic line 
begins with the placement of sensors. All sensors are connected to the 
recording vehicle by multi-pair cable sections. The vibrators move to 
the beginning of the line, and recording begins. The vibrators move 
along a source line, which is at some angle to the sensor line. The 
vibrators begin vibrating in synchrony via a simultaneous radio signal 
to all vehicles. In a typical survey, each vibrator will vibrate four 
times at each location. The entire formation of vibrators subsequently 
moves forward to the next energy input point (67 m (220 ft) in most 
applications) and repeats the process. In a typical 16- to 18-hour day, 
a survey will complete 6 to 16 linear km (4-10 mi) in a 2D seismic 
operation and 24 to 64 linear km (15-40 mi) in a 3D seismic operation. 
CPAI anticipates conducting between one and five vibroseis seismic 
programs onshore within the northwest NPR-A over the next 5 years.
    CPAI also anticipates developing vertical seismic profiles (VSPs) 
to calibrate seismic and well data. VSP operations are usually staffed 
by less than eight people. Four or five of the operators remain in the 
vehicles (vibrators) within 1.6 to 3.2 km (1-2 mi) of the rig, while 
the others are located at the rig.
    CPAI proposes to drill up to three onshore exploration wells on 
private lands south of Barrow near the North Slope Boroughs Walakpa gas 
field in the winter of 2007. It is estimated that another 3 to 5 wells 
could be drilled in this area within the next 5 years. In support of 
these activities, CPA estimates that the following associated 
infrastructure would be required: 20-100 miles of ice roads; 20-300 
miles of rolligon trails; 1 to 2 airfields of approximately 5,000 feet 
in size; storage of rigs and/or support equipment in Barrow; and 
barging of equipment to and from Barrow from existing facilities.
    On Federal lands, CPAI estimates drilling 3 to 6 onshore wells 
within the next 5 years. Drilling will likely include both well testing 
and VSPs. Three onshore wells are proposed for 2007. Drilling 
operations will require an estimated 20 to 100 miles of ice roads, 20 
to 300 miles of rolligon trails, 1 to 4 airfields approximately 5,000 
ft in length on lakes or tundra, rig storage on gravel, possibly at new 
sites in the Northwest NPR-A, 1 to 5 camps, and 1 to 3 rigs operating 
in a given year.

Mitigation Measures for Oil and Gas Exploration Activities in the 
Chukchi Sea

    Measures to mitigate potential effects of oil and gas exploration 
activities on marine mammal resources and subsistence use of those 
resources have been identified and developed through previous MMS lease 
sale National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review and analysis 
processes. The Chukchi Sea DEIS (http://www.mms.gov/alaska/ref/EIS%20EA/draft_arctic_peis/draft_peis.htm
) identifies several 

existing measures designed to mitigate potential effects of oil and gas 
exploration activities on marine mammal resources and subsistence use 
of those resources (II.B.3.; II-B.5-24). All plans for OCS exploration 
activities will go through an MMS review and approval to ensure 
compliance with established laws and regulations. Operational 
compliance is enforced through the MMS on-site inspection program. The 
following MMS lease sale stipulations and mitigation measures will be 
applied to all exploration activities in the Chukchi Lease Sale 
Planning Area and the geographic region of the incidental take 
regulations. The Service has incorporated these MMS Lease sale 
mitigation measures into their analysis of impacts to Pacific walrus 
and polar bears in the Chukchi Sea.
    MMS lease sale stipulations that will help minimize Industry 
impacts to Pacific walruses and polar bears include:

Pre-Booming Requirements for Fuel Transfers

    Fuel transfers of 100 barrels or more will require pre-booming of 
fuel barges. A fuel barge must be surrounded by an oil-spill-
containment boom during the entire transfer operation to help reduce 
any adverse effects from a fuel spill. Pre-booming requirements are 
intended to lower the potential effects to water quality, lower 
trophic-level organisms, marine mammals, subsistence resources and 
hunting, and sociocultural systems by providing additional protection 
from potential fuel spills.
    By containing any spill within the boom area, this stipulation will 
reduce the risk of fuel spills contacting walruses and polar bears, and 
the risk that harvested animals may become tainted from a potential 

Site-Specific Monitoring Program for Marine Mammal Subsistence 

    A lessee proposing to conduct exploration operations within 
traditional subsistence use areas will be required to conduct a site-
specific monitoring program designed to assess when walruses and polar 
bears are present in the vicinity of lease operations and the extent of 
behavioral effects on these marine mammals due to their operations. 
This stipulation applies specifically to the communities of Barrow, 
Wainwright, Point Lay, and Point Hope.
    Site-specific monitoring programs will provide information about 
the seasonal distributions of walruses and polar bears. The information 
can be used to evaluate the threat of harm to the species and provides 
immediate information about their activities, and their response to 
specific events. This stipulation is expected to reduce the potential 
effects of exploration activities on walruses, polar bears, and the 
subsistence use of these resources. This stipulation also contributes 
incremental and important information to ongoing walrus and polar bear 
research and monitoring efforts.

Conflict Avoidance Mechanisms To Protect Subsistence-Harvesting 

    Through consultation with potentially affected communities, the 
lessee shall make every reasonable effort to assure that their proposed 
activities are compatible with marine mammal subsistence hunting 
activities and will not result in unreasonable interference

[[Page 30676]]

with subsistence harvests. In the event that no agreement is reached 
between the parties, the lessee, the appropriate management agencies 
and co-management organizations, and any communities that could be 
directly affected by the proposed activity may request that the MMS 
assemble a group consisting of representatives from the parties 
specifically to address the conflict and attempt to resolve the issues 
before the MMS makes a final determination on the adequacy of the 
measures taken to prevent unreasonable conflicts with subsistence 
    This lease stipulation will help reduce potential conflicts between 
subsistence hunters and proposed oil and gas exploration activities. 
This stipulation will help reduce noise and disturbance conflicts from 
oil and gas operations during specific periods, such as peak hunting 
seasons. It requires that the lessee meet with local communities and 
subsistence groups to resolve potential conflicts. The consultations 
required by this stipulation ensure that the lessee, including 
contractors, consult and coordinate both the timing and sighting of 
events with subsistence users. This stipulation has proven to be 
effective in the Beaufort Sea Planning Area in mitigating offshore 
exploration activities through the development of annual agreements 
between the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and participating oil 

Measures To Mitigate Seismic-Surveying Effects

    The measures summarized below are based on the protective measures 
in MMS' most recent marine seismic survey exploration permits and the 
recently completed Programmatic Environmental Assessment of Arctic 
Ocean Outer Continental Shelf Seismic Surveys--2006 (http://www.mms.gov/alaska/ref/pea_be.htm
). As stated in the MMS Programmatic 

Environmental Assessment, these protective measures would be 
incorporated in all MMS-permitted seismic activities.
    1. Spacing of Seismic Surveys--Operators must maintain a minimum 
spacing of 15 miles between the seismic-source vessels for separate 
simultaneous operations.
    2. Exclusion Zone--A 180/190-decibel (dB) isopleth-exclusion zone 
(also called a safety zone) from the seismic-survey-sound source shall 
be free of marine mammals, including walruses and polar bears, before 
the survey can begin and must remain free of mammals during the survey. 
The purpose of the exclusion zone is to protect marine mammals from 
Level A harassment. The 180-dB (Level A harassment injury) applies to 
cetaceans and walruses, and the 190-dB (Level A harassment-injury) 
applies to pinnipeds other than walruses and polar bears.
    3. Monitoring of the Exclusion Zone--Trained marine mammal 
observers (MMOs) shall monitor the area around the survey for the 
presence of marine mammals to maintain a marine mammal-free exclusion 
zone and monitor for avoidance or take behaviors. Visual observers 
monitor the exclusion zone to ensure that marine mammals do not enter 
the exclusion zone for at least 30 minutes prior to ramp up, during the 
conduct of the survey, or before resuming seismic survey work after a 
shut down.
    Shut Down--The survey shall be suspended until the exclusion/safety 
zone is free of marine mammals. All observers shall have the authority 
to, and shall instruct the vessel operators to immediately stop or de-
energize the airgun array whenever a marine mammal is seen within the 
zone. If the airgun array is completely shut-down for any reason during 
nighttime or poor sighting conditions, it shall not be re-energized 
until daylight or whenever sighting conditions allow for the zone to be 
effectively monitored from the source vessel and/or through other 
passive acoustic, aerial, or vessel-based monitoring.
    Ramp Up--Ramp up is the gradual introduction of sound from airguns 
to deter marine mammals from potentially damaging sound intensities and 
from approaching the specified zone. This technique involves the 
gradual increase (usually 5-6 dB per 5-minute increment) in emitted 
sound levels, beginning with firing a single airgun and gradually 
adding airguns over a period of at least 20-40 minutes, until the 
desired operating level of the full array is obtained. Ramp-up 
procedures may begin after observers ensure the absence of marine 
mammals for at least 30 minutes. Ramp up procedures shall not be 
initiated at night or when monitoring the zone is not possible. A 
single airgun operating at a minimum source level can be maintained for 
routine activities, such as making a turn between line transects, for 
maintenance needs or during periods of impaired visibility (e.g., 
darkness, fog, high sea states), and does not require a 30-minute 
clearance of the zone before the airgun array is again ramped up to 
full output.
    Field Verification--Before conducting the survey, the operator 
shall verify the radii of the exclusion/safety zones within real-time 
conditions in the field. This provides for more accurate radii rather 
than relying on modeling techniques before entering the field. Field-
verification techniques must use valid techniques for determining 
propagation loss. When moving a seismic-survey operation into a new 
area, the operator shall verify the new radii of the zones by applying 
a sound-propagation series.
    4. Monitoring of the Seismic-Survey Area--Aerial-monitoring surveys 
or an equivalent monitoring program acceptable to the Service will be 
required through the LOA authorization process. Field verification of 
the effectiveness of any monitoring techniques may be required by the 
    5. Reporting Requirements--Reporting requirements provide 
regulatory agencies with specific information on the monitoring 
techniques to be implemented and how any observed impacts to marine 
mammals will be recorded. In addition, operators must report 
immediately any shutdowns due to a marine mammal entering the exclusion 
zones and provide the regulating agencies with information on the 
frequency of occurrence and the types and behaviors of marine mammals 
(if possible to ascertain) entering the exclusion zones.
    6. Temporal/Spatial/Operational Restrictions--Seismic-survey and 
associated support vessels shall observe a 0.5-mile (~800-meter) safety 
radius around walruses hauled-out onto land or ice. Aircraft shall be 
required to maintain a 1,000-foot minimum altitude within 0.5 miles of 
hauled-out walruses.
    7. Seismic-survey operators shall notify MMS in the event of any 
loss of cable, streamer, or other equipment that could pose a danger to 
marine mammals.
    These seismic mitigation measures will help reduce the potential 
for Level A Harassment of walruses and polar bears during seismic 
operations. The spatial separation of seismic operations will also 
reduce potential cumulative effects of simultaneous operations. The 
monitoring and reporting requirements will provide location-specific 
information about the seasonal distributions of walruses and polar 
bears. The additional information can be used to evaluate the future 
threat of harm to the species and also provides immediate information 
about their activities, and their response to specific events.

Biological Information

Pacific Walruses

1. Stock Definition and Range
    Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) are represented by a 
single stock of animals that inhabit the shallow

[[Page 30677]]

continental shelf waters of the Bering and Chukchi seas. The population 
ranges across the international boundaries of the United States and 
Russia, and both nations share common interests with respect to the 
conservation and management of this species.
    Several decades of intense commercial exploitation in the late 
1800s and early 1900s left the population severely depleted. The 
population is believed to have increased substantially in size and 
range during the 1960s-1980s due to hunting restrictions enacted in the 
United States and Russia that reduced the size of the commercial 
harvest and provided protection to female walruses and calves. 
Information concerning population size and trend after 1985 is less 
certain. An aerial survey flown in 1990 produced a population estimate 
of 201,039 animals; however, large confidence intervals associated with 
that estimate precluded any conclusions concerning population trend. 
The current size and trend of the Pacific walrus population are 
unknown. Projected ecosystem changes across the Arctic further 
underscore the need for detailed population studies from which sound 
management decisions can be made.
    The distribution of Pacific walruses varies markedly with the 
seasons. During the late winter breeding season, walruses are found in 
areas of the Bering Sea where open leads, polynas, or areas of broken 
pack-ice occur. Significant winter concentrations are normally found in 
the Gulf of Anadyr, the St. Lawrence Island Polyna, and in an area 
south of Nunivak Island. In the spring and early summer, most of the 
population follows the retreating pack-ice northward into the Chukchi 
Sea; however, several thousand animals, primarily adult males, remain 
in the Bering Sea, utilizing coastal haulouts during the ice-free 
season. During the summer months, walruses are widely distributed 
across the shallow continental shelf waters of the Chukchi Sea. 
Significant summer concentrations are normally found in the 
unconsolidated pack-ice west of Point Barrow, and along the northern 
coastline of Chukotka in the vicinity of Wrangel Island. As the ice 
edge advances southward in the fall, walruses reverse their migration 
and re-group on the Bering Sea pack-ice.
2. Habitat
    Walruses rely on floating pack-ice as a substrate for resting and 
giving birth. Walruses generally require ice thicknesses of 50 
centimeters (cm) or more to support their weight. Although walruses can 
break through ice up to 20 cm thick, they usually occupy areas with 
natural openings and are not found in areas of extensive, unbroken ice. 
Thus, their concentrations in winter tend to be in areas of divergent 
ice flow or along the margins of persistent polynas. Concentrations in 
summer tend to be in areas of unconsolidated pack-ice, usually within 
100 km of the leading edge of the ice pack. When suitable pack-ice is 
not available, walruses haul out to rest on land. Isolated sites, such 
as barrier islands, points, and headlands, are most frequently 
occupied. Social factors, learned behavior, and proximity to their prey 
base are also thought to influence the location of haulout sites. 
Traditional walrus haulout sites in the eastern Chukchi Sea include 
Cape Thompson, Cape Lisburne, and Icy Cape. In recent years, the Cape 
Lisburne haulout site has seen regular use in late summer. Numerous 
haulouts also exist along the northern coastline of Chukotka, and on 
Wrangel and Herald islands, which are considered important hauling 
grounds in September, especially in years when the pack-ice retreats 
far to the north.
    Although capable of diving to deeper depths, walruses are for the 
most part found in shallow waters of 100 m or less, possibly because of 
higher productivity of their benthic foods in shallower water. They 
feed almost exclusively on benthic invertebrates although Native 
hunters have also reported incidences of walruses preying on seals. 
Prey densities are thought to vary across the continental shelf 
according to sediment type and structure. Preferred feeding areas are 
typically composed of sediments of soft, fine sands. The juxtaposition 
of ice over appropriate depths for feeding is especially important for 
females with dependent calves that are not capable of deep diving or 
long exposure in the water. The mobility of the pack ice is thought to 
help prevent walruses from overexploiting their prey resource. Foraging 
trips may last for several days, during which time they dive to the 
bottom nearly continuously. Most foraging dives to the bottom last 
between 5 and 10 minutes, with a relatively short (1-2 minute) surface 
interval. The intensive tilling of the sea floor by foraging walruses 
is thought to have significant influence on the ecology of the Bering 
and Chukchi Seas. Foraging activity recycles large quantities of 
nutrients from the sea floor back into the water column, provides food 
for scavenger organisms, and contributes greatly to the diversity of 
the benthic community.
3. Life History
    Walruses are long-lived animals with low rates of reproduction. 
Females reach sexual maturity at 4-9 years of age. Males become fertile 
at 5-7 years of age; however, they are usually unable to compete for 
mates until they reach full physical maturity at 15-16 years of age. 
Breeding occurs between January and March in the pack-ice of the Bering 
Sea. Calves are usually born in late April or May the following year 
during the northward migration from the Bering Sea to the Chukchi Sea. 
Calving areas in the Chukchi Sea extend from the Bering Strait to 
latitude 70 [deg]N. Calves are capable of entering the water shortly 
after birth, but tend to haulout frequently, until their swimming 
ability and blubber layer are well developed. Newborn calves are tended 
closely. They accompany their mother from birth and are usually not 
weaned for 2 years or more. Cows brood neonates to aid in their 
thermoregulation, and carry them on their back or under their flipper 
while in the water. Females with newborns often join together to form 
large ``nursery herds''. Summer distribution of females and young 
walruses is closely tied to the movements of the pack-ice relative to 
feeding areas. Females give birth to one calf every two or more years. 
This reproductive rate is much lower than other pinniped species; 
however, some walruses live to age 35-40, and remain reproductively 
active until relatively late in life.
    Walruses are extremely social and gregarious animals. They tend to 
travel in groups and haul-out onto ice or land in groups. Walruses 
spend approximately one-third of their time hauled out onto land or 
ice. Hauled-out walruses tend to lie in close physical contact with 
each other. Youngsters often lie on top of the adults. The size of the 
hauled-out groups can range from a few animals up to several thousand 
4. Mortality
    Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are known to prey on walrus calves, 
and killer whales (Orcinus orca) have been known to take all age 
classes of animals. Predation levels are thought to be highest near 
terrestrial haulout sites where large aggregations of walruses can be 
found; however, few observations exist for off-shore environs.
    Pacific walruses have been hunted by coastal Natives in Alaska and 
Chukotka for thousands of years. Exploitation of the Pacific walrus 
population by

[[Page 30678]]

Europeans has also occurred in varying degrees since first contact. 
Presently, walrus hunting in Alaska and Chukotka is restricted to meet 
the subsistence needs of aboriginal peoples. The combined harvest of 
the United States and Russia averages approximately 5,500 walruses per 
year. This mortality estimate includes corrections for under-reported 
harvest and struck and lost animals.
    Intraspecific trauma is also a known source of injury and 
mortality. Disturbance events can cause walruses to stampede into the 
water and have been known to result in injuries and mortalities. The 
risk of stampede-related injuries increases with the number of animals 
hauled out. Calves and young animals at the perimeter of these herds 
are particularly vulnerable to trampling injuries.
5. Distributions and Abundance of Pacific Walruses in the Chukchi Sea
    Walruses are seasonably abundant in the Chukchi Sea. Their 
distribution is thought to be influenced primarily by the extent of the 
seasonal pack-ice, although habitat use patterns are poorly known. In 
May and June, most of the Pacific walrus population migrates through 
the Bering Strait into the Chukchi Sea. Walruses tend to migrate into 
the Chukchi Sea along lead systems that develop along the northwest 
coast of Alaska. Walruses are expected to be closely associated with 
the southern edge of the seasonal pack-ice during the open water 
season. By July, large groups of walruses, up to several thousand 
animals, can be found along the edge of the pack ice between Icy Cape 
and Point Barrow. During August, the edge of the pack-ice generally 
retreats northward to about 71 [deg]N, but in light ice years, the ice 
edge can retreat beyond 76 [deg]N. The sea ice normally reaches its 
minimum (northern) extent in September. It is unclear how walruses 
respond in years when the sea ice retreats beyond the relatively 
shallow continental shelf waters. At least some animals are thought to 
migrate west towards Chukotka, while others have been observed hauling 
out along the shoreline between Point Barrow and Cape Lisburne. The 
pack-ice rapidly advances southward in October, and most animals are 
thought to have returned to the Bering Sea by early November.
    A recent abundance estimate for the number of walruses present in 
the Chukchi Sea during the proposed operating season is lacking. 
Previous aerial surveys of the region carried out in the 1980s resulted 
in abundance estimates ranging from 62,177-101,213. A 1990 aerial 
survey reported 16,489 walruses distributed in the Chukchi Sea pack-ice 
between Wrangel Island and Point Barrow; however, the sea-ice was 
distributed well beyond the continental shelf at the time of the 
survey. These abundance estimates are all considered conservative 
because no corrections were made for walruses in water (not visible) at 
the time of the surveys.

Polar Bears

1. Alaska Stock Definition and Range
    Polar bears occur throughout the Arctic. The world population 
estimate of polar bears ranges from 20,000-25,000 individuals. In 
Alaska, they have been observed as far south in the eastern Bering Sea 
as St. Matthew Island and the Pribilof Islands. However, they are most 
commonly found within 180 miles of the Alaskan coast of the Chukchi and 
Beaufort Seas, from the Bering Strait to the Canadian border. Two 
stocks occur in Alaska: (1) The Chukchi-Bering Seas stock (CS); and (2) 
the Southern Beaufort Sea stock (SBS). A summary of the Chukchi and 
Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear stocks are described below. A detailed 
description of the Chukchi Sea and Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear 
stocks can be found in the ``Range-Wide Status Review of the Polar Bear 
(Ursus Maritimus)'' (http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/polarbear/issues.htm

A. Chukchi/Bering Sea Stock (CS)
    The CS is defined as polar bears inhabiting the area as far west as 
the eastern portion of the Eastern Siberian Sea, as far east as Point 
Barrow, and extending into the Bering Sea, with its southern boundary 
determined by the extent of annual ice. Based upon these telemetry 
studies, the western boundary of the population was set near Chaunskaya 
Bay in northeastern Russia. The eastern boundary was set at Icy Cape, 
Alaska, which also is the previous western boundary of the SBS. This 
eastern boundary constitutes a large overlap zone with bears in the SBS 
population. The CS population is estimated to comprise 2,000 animals 
based on extrapolation of aerial den surveys; however, these estimates 
have wide ranges (ca. 2,000-5,000) and are considered to be of little 
value for management. Reliable estimates of population size based upon 
mark and recapture are not available for this region. The status of the 
CS population, which was believed to have increased after the level of 
harvest was reduced in 1972, is now thought to be uncertain or 
declining. Measuring the population size remains a research challenge 
and recent reports of substantial levels of illegal harvest in Russia 
are cause for concern. Legal harvesting activities are currently 
restricted to Inuit in western Alaska. In Alaska, average annual 
harvest levels declined by approximately 50 percent between the 1980s 
and the 1990s and have remained at low levels in recent years. There 
are several factors potentially affecting the harvest level in western 
Alaska. The factor of greatest direct relevance is the substantial 
illegal harvest in Chukotka. In addition, other factors such as 
climatic change and its effects on pack ice distribution, as well as 
changing demographics and hunting effort in native communities could 
influence the declining take. Recent measures undertaken by regional 
authorities in Chukotka may have reduced the illegal hunt. The unknown 
rate of illegal take makes the stable designation uncertain and 
B. Southern Beaufort Sea (SBS)
    The SBS polar bear population is shared between Canada and Alaska. 
Radio-telemetry data, combined with earlier tag returns from harvested 
bears, suggested that the SBS region comprised a single population with 
a western boundary near Icy Cape, Alaska, and an eastern boundary near 
Pearce Point, Northwest Territories, Canada. Early estimates suggested 
the size of the SBS population was approximately 1,800 polar bears, 
although uneven sampling was known to compromise the accuracy of that 
estimate. A preliminary population analysis of the SBS stock was 
completed in June 2006 through joint research coordinated between the 
United States and Canada. That analysis indicated the population of the 
region between Icy Cape and Pearce Point is now approximately 1,500 
polar bears (95 percent confidence intervals approximately 1,000-
2,000). Further analyses are likely to tighten the confidence 
intervals, but not likely to change the point estimate appreciably. 
Although the confidence intervals of the current population estimate 
overlap the previous population estimate of 1,800, other statistical 
and ecological evidence (e.g., high recapture rates encountered in the 
field) suggest that the current population is actually smaller than has 
been estimated for this area in the past. Although the new SBS 
population estimate is preliminary, we believe it should be used for 
current status assessments.
    Recent analyses of radio-telemetry data of spatio-temporal use 
patterns of bears of the SBS stock using new spatial modelling 
techniques suggest realignment of the boundaries of the Southern 
Beaufort Sea area. We now

[[Page 30679]]

know that nearly all bears in the central coastal region of the 
Beaufort Sea are from the SBS population, and that proportional 
representation of SBS bears decreases to both the west and east. For 
example, only 50 percent of the bears occurring in Barrow, Alaska, and 
Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, are SBS bears, with the remainder 
being from the CS and northern Beaufort Sea populations, respectively. 
The recent radio-telemetry data indicate that bears from the SBS 
population seldom reach Pearce Point, which is currently on the eastern 
management boundary for the SBS population. Conversely, SBS bears can 
also be found in the western regions of their range in the Chukchi Sea 
(i.e., Wainwright and Point Lay) in lower proportions than the central 
portion of their range.
    Management and conservation concerns for polar bears include: 
climate change, which continues to increase both the expanse and 
duration of open water in summer and fall; human activities within the 
near-shore environment, including hydrocarbon development and 
production; atmospheric and oceanic transport of contaminants into the 
Arctic; and the potential for inadvertent over-harvest, should polar 
bear stocks become nutritionally-stressed or decline due to some 
combination of the aforementioned threats.
    On January 9, 2007 (72 FR 1064), the Service proposed to list the 
polar bear as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species 
Act of 1973, as amended, based on a comprehensive scientific review to 
assess the current status and future of the species. The Service will 
gather more information, undertake additional analyses, and assess the 
reliability of relevant scientific models before making a final 
decision whether to list the species. More information can be found at: 
http://www.fws.gov/ and http://www.fws.gov/home/feature/2006/010907FRproposedrule
2. Habitat
    Polar bears of the Chukchi Sea are subject to the movements and 
coverage of the pack-ice. The most extensive north-south movements of 
polar bears are associated with the spring and fall ice movement. For 
example, during the 2006 ice-covered season, six bears radio-collared 
in the Beaufort Sea were located in the Chukchi and Bering Seas as far 
south as 59 [deg] latitude. Summer movements tend to be less dramatic 
due to the reduction of ice habitat. Summer distribution is somewhat 
dependent upon the location of the ice front; however, polar bears are 
accomplished swimmers and are often seen on floes separated from the 
main pack-ice. Therefore, bears can appear at any time in what can be 
called ``open water.'' The summer ice pack can be quite disjunct and 
segments can be driven by wind great distances carrying polar bears 
with them. Bears from both stocks overlap in their distribution around 
Point Barrow and can move into surrounding areas depending on ice 
    Polar bears spend most of their time in near-shore, shallow waters 
over the productive continental shelf associated with the shear zone 
and the active ice adjacent to the shear zone. Sea ice and food 
availability are two important factors affecting the distribution of 
polar bears. In the near-shore environment, Beaufort Sea polar bears 
are generally widely distributed in low numbers across the Beaufort Sea 
area; however, polar bears have been observed congregating on the 
barrier islands in the fall and winter, resting, moving, and feeding on 
available food. Polar bears will occasionally feed on bowhead whale 
(Balaena mysticetus) carcasses at Point Barrow, Cross, and Barter 
islands, areas where bowhead whales are harvested for subsistence 
purposes. An increased trend by polar bears to use coastal habitats in 
the fall during open-water and freeze-up conditions has been noted 
since 1992.
3. Denning and Reproduction
    Although insufficient data exist to accurately quantify polar bear 
denning along the Alaskan Chukchi Sea coast, dens in the area are less 
concentrated than for other areas in the Arctic. The majority of 
denning of Chukchi Sea polar bears occurs on Wrangel Island, Herald 
Island, and certain locations on the northern Chukotka coast. Females 
without dependent cubs breed in the spring. Females can initiate 
breeding at 5 to 6 years of age. Females with cubs do not mate. 
Pregnant females enter maternity dens by late November, and the young 
are usually born in late December or early January. Only pregnant 
females den for an extended period during the winter; other polar bears 
may excavate temporary dens to escape harsh winter winds. An average of 
two cubs are usually born, and after giving birth, the female and her 
cubs remain in the den where the cubs are nurtured until they can walk. 
Reproductive potential (intrinsic rate of increase) is low. The average 
reproductive interval for a polar bear is 3 to 4 years, and a female 
polar bear can produce about 8 to 10 cubs in her lifetime; in healthy 
populations, 50 to 60 percent of the cubs will survive. Female bears 
can be quite sensitive to disturbances during this denning period.
    In late March or early April, the female and cubs emerge from the 
den. If the mother moves young cubs from the den before they can walk 
or withstand the cold, mortality to the cubs may increase. Therefore, 
it is thought that successful denning, birthing, and rearing activities 
require a relatively undisturbed environment. Radio and satellite 
telemetry studies elsewhere indicate that denning can occur in multi-
year pack-ice and on land.
    Both fur and fat are important to polar bears for insulation in air 
and water. Cubs-of-the-year must accumulate a sufficient layer of fat 
in order to maintain their body temperature when immersed in water. It 
is unknown to what extent young cubs can withstand exposure in water 
before they are threatened by hypothermia. Polar bears groom their fur 
to maintain its insulative value.
4. Prey
    Ringed seals (Phoca hispida) are the primary prey of polar bears in 
most areas. Bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus) and walrus calves are 
hunted occasionally. Polar bears opportunistically scavenge marine 
mammal carcasses, and there are reports of polar bears killing beluga 
whales (Delphinapterus leucas) trapped in the ice. Polar bears are also 
known to eat nonfood items including styrofoam, plastic, antifreeze, 
and hydraulic and lubricating fluids.
    Polar bears hunt seals along leads and other areas of open water or 
by waiting at a breathing hole, or by breaking through the roof of a 
seal's lair. Lairs are excavated in snow drifts on top of the ice. 
Bears also stalk seals in the spring when they haul out on the ice in 
warm weather. The relationship between ice type and bear distribution 
is as yet unknown, but it is suspected to be related to seal 
5. Mortality
    Polar bears are long-lived (up to 30 years) and have no natural 
predators, and they do not appear to be prone to death by diseases or 
parasites. Cannibalism by adult males on cubs and occasionally on other 
bears is known to occur. The most significant source of mortality is 
man. Before the MMPA was passed in 1972, polar bears were taken by 
sport hunters and residents. Between 1925 and 1972, the mean reported 
kill was 186 bears per year. Seventy-five percent of these were males, 
as cubs and females with cubs were protected. Since 1972, only Alaska 
Natives from coastal Alaskan villages have been allowed to

[[Page 30680]]

hunt polar bears in the United States for their subsistence uses or for 
handicraft and clothing items for sale. The Native hunt occurs without 
restrictions on sex, age, or number provided that the population is not 
determined to be depleted. From 1980 to 2005, the total annual harvest 
for Alaska averaged 101 bears: 64 percent from the Chukchi Sea and 36 
percent from the Beaufort Sea. Other sources of mortality related to 
human activities include bears killed during research activities, 
euthanasia of sick or injured bears, and defense of life kills by non-
6. Distributions and Abundance of Polar Bears in the Chukchi Sea
    Polar bears are seasonably abundant in the Chukchi Sea and Lease 
Sale Area 193 and their distribution is influenced by the movement of 
the seasonal pack ice. Polar bears in the Chukchi and Bering Seas move 
south with the advancing ice during fall and winter and move north in 
advance of the receding ice in late spring and early summer. The 
distance between the northern and southern extremes of the seasonal 
pack ice is approximately 800 miles. In May and June, polar bears are 
likely to be encountered in the Lease Sale Area 193 as they move 
northward from the northern Bering Sea through the Bering Strait into 
the southern Chukchi Sea. During the fall/early winter period, polar 
bears are likely to be encountered in the Lease Sale Area 193 during 
their southward migration in late October and November. Furthermore, 
bears from the Southern Beaufort Sea population can be encountered in 
the Chukchi Sea as they travel with the pack ice in search of food. 
Polar bears are dependent upon the sea ice for foraging and the most 
productive areas seem to be near the ice edge, leads, or polynas where 
the ocean depth is minimal. In addition, polar bears could be present 
along the shoreline in this area as they will opportunistically 
scavenge on marine mammal carcasses washed up along the shoreline.

Subsistence Use and Harvest Patterns of Pacific Walruses and Polar 

    Walruses and polar bears have been traditionally harvested by 
Alaska Natives for subsistence purposes. The harvest of these species 
plays an important role in the culture and economy of many coastal 
communities in Alaska and Chukotka. Walrus meat is consumed by humans 
and dogs, and the ivory is used to manufacture traditional arts and 
crafts. Polar bears are primarily hunted for their fur, which is used 
to manufacture cold weather gear; however, their meat is also 
occasionally consumed. The communities most likely to be impacted by 
the proposed activities are Point Hope, Point Lay, Wainwright, and 
    An exemption under section 101(b) of the MMPA allows Alaska Natives 
who reside in Alaska and dwell on the coast of the North Pacific Ocean 
or the Arctic Ocean to take walruses and polar bears if such taking is 
for subsistence purposes or occurs for purposes of creating and selling 
authentic native articles of handicrafts and clothing, as long as the 
take is not done in a wasteful manner. Under the terms of the MMPA, 
there are no restrictions on the number, season, or ages of walruses or 
polar bears that can be harvested in Alaska. A more restrictive Native 
to Native agreement between the Inupiat from Alaska and the Inuvialuit 
in Canada was created for the Southern Beaufort Sea stock of polar 
bears in 1988. Polar bears harvested from the communities of Barrow and 
Wainwright are currently considered part of the Southern Beaufort Sea 
stock and thus are subject to the terms of the Inuvialuit-Inupiat Polar 
Bear Management Agreement (Agreement). The Agreement establishes quotas 
and recommendations concerning protection of denning females, family 
groups, and methods of take. Quotas are based on estimates of 
population size and age-specific estimates of survival and recruitment. 
The polar bears harvested by the communities of Point Hope and Point 
Lay are thought to come primarily from the Chukchi/Bering sea stock. 
Neither Point Hope nor Point Lay hunters are parties to the Agreement.
    The Service collects information on the subsistence harvest of 
walruses and polar bears in Alaska through the Marking, Tagging and 
Reporting Program (MTRP). The program is administered through a network 
of MTRP ``taggers'' employed in subsistence hunting communities. The 
marking and tagging rule requires that hunters report harvested 
walruses and polar bears to MTRP taggers within 30 days of kill. 
Taggers also certify (tag) specified parts (ivory tusks for walruses, 
hide and skull for polar bears) to help control illegal take and trade. 
It is unknown what proportion of the total U.S. walrus harvest is 
reported through the MTRP, although some estimates are as low as 30 
percent. Polar bear harvests reported by the MTRP are believed to be as 
high as 80 percent of the actual subsistence harvest.
    Harvest levels of polar bears and walruses in these communities 
vary considerably between years, presumably in response to differences 
in animal distributions and ice conditions. Descriptive information on 
subsistence harvests of walruses and polar bears in each community is 
presented below.

Point Hope

    Between 1990 and 2005, the average annual walrus harvest recorded 
through the MTRP at Point Hope was 5.6 ( 5.8, SD) animals 
per year. Point Hope hunters typically begin their walrus hunt in late 
May and June as walruses migrate into the Chukchi Sea. The sea ice is 
usually well off shore of Point Hope by July and does not bring animals 
back into the range of hunters until late August and September. Most 
(70.8 percent) of the reported walrus harvest at Point Hope occurred in 
the months of June and September. Most of the walruses recorded through 
the MTRP at Point Hope were taken within five miles of the coast, or 
near coastal haulout sites at Cape Lisburne and Cape Thompson.
    Between 1990 and 2005, the average reported polar bear harvest at 
Point Hope was 12.1  4.1 animals per year. Polar bear 
harvests typically occur from January to April. Most of the polar bears 
reported through the MTRP program were harvested within 10 miles of the 
community; however, residents also reported taking polar bears as far 
away as Cape Thompson and Cape Lisburne.

Point Lay

    Point Lay hunters reported an average of 4.4  3.4 
walruses per year between 1990 and 2005. Based on MTRP data, walrus 
hunting in Point Lay peaks in June-July with 84.4 percent of all 
walruses being harvested during these months. Historically, harvests 
have occurred primarily within 40 miles north and south along the coast 
from Point Lay and approximately 30 miles offshore.
    Between 1990 and 2005, the average reported polar bear harvest at 
Point Lay was 2.2  1.8 animals per year. The only 
information on harvest locations comes from the MTRP database; all 
reported harvest occurred within 25 miles of Point Lay.


    Wainwright hunters have consistently harvested more walruses than 
any other subsistence community on the North Slope. Between 1990 and 
2005, the average reported walrus harvest in Wainwright was 50.8 < plus-
minus> 30.0 animals per year. A discrepancy between MTRP data and other 
sources of harvest information is noted. Walruses are thought to 
represent approximately 40 percent of the communities' annual 
subsistence diet of marine mammals. Wainwright residents hunt walruses 
from June

[[Page 30681]]

through August as the ice retreats northward. Walruses are plentiful in 
the pack-ice near the village this time of year. Most (85.2 percent) of 
the harvest occurs in June and July. Most walrus hunting is thought to 
occur within 20 miles of the community, in all directions.
    Between 1990 and 2005, the average reported polar bear harvest at 
Wainwright was 6.8  4.0 animals per year. Polar bears are 
harvested throughout much of the year, with peak harvests reported in 
May and December. Polar bear are often harvested coincidentally with 
beluga and bowhead whale harvests. MTRP data indicates that most 
hunting occurs within 10 miles of the community.


    Barrow is the northernmost community within the geographical region 
being considered. Most (88.6 percent) walrus hunting occurs in June and 
July when the land-fast ice breaks up and hunters can access the 
walruses by boat as they migrate north on the retreating pack-ice. 
Walrus hunters from Barrow sometimes range up to 60 miles from shore; 
however, most harvests reported through the MTRP have occurred within 
30 miles of the community. Between 1990 and 2005, the average reported 
walrus harvest in Barrow was 26.0  15.2 animals per year.
    Between 1990 and 2005, the average reported polar bear harvest at 
Barrow was 20.9 (+8.0 animals per year). The number of polar bears 
harvested in Barrow is thought to be influenced by ice conditions and 
the number of people out on the ice. Most (74 percent) of all polar 
bear harvests reported by Barrow residents occurred in February and 
March. Although relatively few people are thought to hunt specifically 
for polar bears, those that do hunt primarily between October and 
March. Hunting areas for polar bears overlap strongly with areas of 
bowhead subsistence hunting; particularly the area from Point Barrow 
South to Walakpa where walrus and whale carcasses are known to 
concentrate polar bears.

Potential Effects of Oil and Gas Industry Activities on Pacific 
Walruses and Polar Bears

Pacific Walruses

1. Disturbance
    Proposed oil and gas exploration activities in the Chukchi Sea 
Region include the operation of seismic survey vessels, drill-ships, 
icebreakers, supply boats, fixed-winged aircrafts, and helicopters. 
Operating this equipment near walruses could result in disturbances. 
Potential effects of disturbances on walruses include insufficient 
rest, increased stress and energy expenditure, interference with 
feeding, masking of communication, and impaired thermoregulation of 
calves spending too much time in the water. Prolonged or repeated 
disturbances could displace individuals or herds from preferred feeding 
or resting areas. Disturbance events frequently cause walrus groups to 
abandon land or ice haulouts. Severe disturbance events occasionally 
result in trampling injuries or cow-calf separations, both of which are 
potentially fatal. Calves and young animals at the perimeter of the 
herds appear particularly vulnerable to trampling injuries. Under 
certain ice conditions, noise generated from exploration activities 
could potentially obstruct migratory pathways and interfere with the 
free movements of animals.
    The response of walruses to disturbance stimuli is highly variable. 
Anecdotal observations by walrus hunters and researchers suggest that 
males tend to be more tolerant of disturbances than females and 
individuals tend to be more tolerant than groups. Females with 
dependent calves are considered least tolerant of disturbances. Hearing 
sensitivity is assumed to be within the 13 Hz and 1,200 Hz range of 
their own vocalizations. Walrus hunters and researchers have noted that 
walruses tend to react to the presence of humans and machines at 
greater distances from upwind approaches than from downwind approaches, 
suggesting that odor is also a stimulus for a flight response. The 
visual acuity of walruses is thought to be less than for other species 
of pinnipeds.
    Seismic operations are expected to add significant levels of noise 
into the marine environment. There are relatively few data available to 
evaluate the potential response of walruses to seismic operations. 
Although the hearing sensitivity of walruses is poorly known, source 
levels associated with Marine 3D and 2D seismic surveys are thought to 
be high enough to cause temporary hearing loss in other pinniped 
species. Therefore, walruses within the 180-decibel (dB re 1 [mu]Pa) 
safety radius for seismic activities could potentially suffer shifts in 
hearing thresholds and temporary hearing loss.
    The reaction of walruses to vessel traffic appears to be dependent 
upon vessel type, distance, speed, and previous exposure to 
disturbances. Underwater noise from vessel traffic in the Chukchi Sea 
could ``mask'' ordinary communication between individuals. Ice 
management operations are expected to have the greatest potential for 
disturbances since these operations typically require vessels to 
accelerate, reverse direction, and turn rapidly, activities that 
maximize propeller cavitations and resulting noise levels. Previous 
monitoring efforts suggest that icebreaking activities can displace 
some walrus groups up to several kilometers away; however, most groups 
of hauled out walruses showed little reaction beyond 1/2 mile. 
Environmental variables such as wind speed and direction are also 
thought to contribute to variability in detection and response.
    Reactions of walruses to aircraft are thought to vary with aircraft 
type, range, flight pattern, and environmental conditions as well as 
the age, sex, and group size of exposed individuals. Fixed-winged 
aircraft appear less likely to elicit a response than helicopter over-
flights. Walruses are particularly sensitive to changes in engine noise 
and are more likely to stampede when planes turn or fly low overhead. 
Researchers conducting aerial surveys for walruses in fixed-winged 
aircrafts over sea ice habitats have observed little reaction to 
aircrafts above 1,000 ft (305 m).
    A lack of information concerning the distribution and abundance of 
walruses in the Chukchi Sea precludes a meaningful assessment of the 
numbers of animals likely to be impacted by proposed exploration 
activities. Based upon previous aerial survey efforts and exploration 
monitoring programs, walruses are expected to be closely associated 
with seasonal pack ice during the proposed operating season. Therefore, 
in evaluating potential impacts of exploration activities, broken pack 
ice may serve as a reasonable predictor of walrus abundance. Activities 
occurring in or near sea ice habitats are presumed to have the greatest 
potential for impacting walruses.
    Geotechnical seismic surveys and high-resolution site clearance 
seismic surveys are expected to occur primarily in open water 
conditions, at a sufficient distance from the pack ice and large 
concentrations of walruses to avoid most disturbances. Based upon 
previous seismic monitoring programs, seismic surveys can be expected 
to interact with relatively small numbers of walruses swimming in open 
water. Industry will adopt standard seismic mitigation measures 
including the monitoring of a 180-dB ensonification exclusion zone, 
which will reduce the potential for air-gun pulses to injure walruses 
during seismic operations. Although the

[[Page 30682]]

hearing sensitivity of walruses is poorly known, walruses swimming in 
open water will likely be able to detect air-gun pulses well beyond the 
180-dB safety radius. The most likely response of walruses in open 
water to acoustic and visual cues will be for animals to move away from 
the source of the disturbance. Because of the transitory nature of the 
proposed seismic surveys, impacts to walruses exposed to seismic survey 
operations are expected to be temporary in nature and have little or no 
effects on survival or recruitment. Marine mammal monitoring programs 
are expected to provide insight into the response of walruses to 
various seismic operations from which future mitigative conditions can 
be developed.
    Although seismic surveys are expected to occur in areas of open 
water some distance from the pack ice, support vessels and/or aircraft 
supporting seismic operations (1 every 2 weeks) may encounter 
aggregations of walruses hauled out onto sea ice. The sight, sound, or 
smell of humans and machines could potentially displace these animals 
from ice haulouts. Because seismic operations are expected to move 
throughout the Chukchi Sea, impacts associated with support vessels and 
aircrafts are likely to be distributed in time and space. Therefore, 
noise and disturbance from aircraft and vessel traffic associated with 
seismic surveys are expected to have relatively localized, short-term 
effects. The potential for disturbance events resulting in injuries, 
mortalities, or mother-calf separations is of concern. The potential 
for injuries is expected to increase with the size of affected walrus 
aggregations. Mitigation measures designed to separate Industry 
activities from walrus aggregations are expected to reduce the 
potential for animal injuries, mortalities, and mother-calf 
separations. Restricting offshore exploration activities to the open-
water season (July 1-November 30) is expected to reduce the number of 
potential interactions between walruses and industry operations 
occurring in or near sea ice habitats. Adaptive operational 
restrictions, including a 0.5-mile (800-m) operational exclusion zone 
for marine vessels, and a 1,000-ft altitude restriction for aircraft 
flying near walrus groups hauled-out onto sea ice, are expected to 
reduce the intensity of disturbance events and minimize the potential 
for injuries, mortalities, and mother-calf separations.
    Drilling operations are expected to occur at several offshore 
locations. Although drilling activities are expected to occur primarily 
during open water conditions, the dynamic movements of sea ice could 
transport walruses within range of drilling operations. Drilling 
operations are expected to involve drill ships attended by icebreaking 
vessels to manage incursions of sea ice. Monitoring programs associated 
with exploratory drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea in 1990 noted 
that 25 percent of walrus groups encountered in the pack ice during 
icebreaking operations responded by diving into the water, with most 
reactions occurring within 1 km of the ship.
    Drilling operations will also be supported by supply vessels (1-3 
trips per week) and/or helicopters (1-3 trips per day) depending upon 
the distance from shore. Support missions could encounter aggregations 
of walruses on sea ice along their transportation route. Because 
drilling operations are expected to last from 30-90 days at a single 
location, walruses in the vicinity of drilling operations could be 
subjected to prolonged or repeated disturbances. The most likely 
response of walruses subjected to prolonged or repeated disturbances 
will be for them to abandon the area.
    The distribution and abundance of walruses in the Chukchi Sea is 
poorly understood. Without knowledge of the relative importance of 
various habitat areas, or the likely locations of drilling operations, 
it is difficult to predict the number of animals likely to be impacted 
by drilling operations. Additional monitoring and mitigation measures 
will be required in the event that a prospective drill-site occurs in 
important habitat areas. The MMS permit stipulation identifying a 0.5-
mile operational exclusion zone around groups of hauled-out walruses is 
expected to help mitigate disturbances to walruses near prospective 
drill sites. Mitigation measures specified in an LOA including 
requirements for ice-scouting, surveys for walruses and polar bears in 
the vicinity of active drilling operations and ice breaking activities, 
requirements for marine mammal observers onboard drill-ships and ice 
breakers, and operational restrictions near walrus and polar bear 
aggregations are expected to further reduce the potential for 
interactions between walruses and drilling operations.
2. Waste Discharge and Oil Spills
    The potential exists for fuel and oil spills to occur from seismic 
and support vessels, fuel barges, and drilling operations. Little is 
known about the effects of fuel and oil on walruses; however, walruses 
may react to fuel and oil much like other pinniped species. Damage to 
the skin of pinnipeds can occur from contact with oil because some of 
the oil penetrates into the skin, causing inflammation and ulcers. 
Exposure to oil can quickly cause permanent eye damage. In studies 
conducted on other species of pinnipeds, pulmonary hemorrhage, 
inflammation, congestion, and nerve damage resulted after exposure to 
concentrated hydrocarbon fumes for a period of 24 hours. Walruses are 
extremely gregarious animals and normally associate in large groups; 
therefore, any contact with spilled oil or fuel could impact several 
    Exposure to oil could also impact benthic prey species. Bivalve 
mollusks, a favorite prey species of the walrus, are not effective at 
processing hydrocarbon compounds, resulting in highly concentrated 
accumulations and long-term retention of contamination within the 
organism. Exposure to oil may kill prey organisms or result in slower 
growth and productivity. Because walrus feed primarily on mollusks, 
they may be more vulnerable to a loss of this prey species than other 
pinnipeds that feed on a larger variety of prey.
    Although fuel and oil spills has the potential to cause adverse 
impacts to walruses and prey species, operational spills associated 
with the proposed exploration activities are not considered a major 
threat. Operational spills would likely be of a relatively small 
volume, and occur in areas of open water where walrus densities are 
expected to be relatively low. MMS operating stipulations, including 
oil spill prevention and response plans, reduce both the risk and scale 
of potential spills. Any impacts associated with an operational spill 
are expected to be limited to a small number of animals.
    A potentially more serious type of oil spill is the blowout, an 
uncontrolled release of oil or gas from an exploratory well. Blowout 
prevention technology and well control procedures have been designed to 
minimize the risk of a blowout. Blowout prevention technology will be 
required for all exploratory drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea, 
and the MMS considers the likelihood of a blowout occurring during 
exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea as negligible (MMS DEIS).
3. Results of Previous Monitoring Studies
    Oil and gas related activities have been conducted in the Beaufort 
and Chukchi Seas since the late 1960's. Much more oil and gas related 
activity has occurred in the Beaufort Sea OCS than in the Chukchi Sea 
OCS. Many offshore activities required ice management (icebreaking), 
helicopter traffic, fixed-wing aircraft monitoring,

[[Page 30683]]

other support vessels and stand-by barges. Though no studies have 
examined the impacts of these activities on the Pacific walrus 
population, some information exists on encounter rates and behavioral 
responses of individual walruses to previous oil and gas related 
    Pacific walruses do not normally range into the Beaufort Sea, 
although individuals and small groups are occasionally observed. From 
1994 to 2004, Industry monitoring programs recorded a total of nine 
walrus sightings involving a total of 10 animals. Three of the reported 
sightings involved potential disturbances to walruses; two sightings 
were of individual animals hauled-out onto the armor of Northstar 
Island, and one sighting occurred at the McCovey prospect, where a 
walrus appeared to react to helicopter noise. Physical effects or 
impacts to individual walruses were not noted. Because of the small 
numbers of walruses encountered by past and present oil and gas 
activity in the Beaufort Sea, impacts to the Pacific walrus population 
appear to have been minimal.
    Three pre-lease seismic surveys were carried out in the Chukchi Sea 
OCS planning area in 2006. Marine mammal observers onboard the seismic 
and support vessels recorded a total of 1,186 walrus sightings during 
their operations. Most of the walrus sightings were reported by seismic 
support vessels during ice-scouting missions. Three hundred and 
eighteen of the walruses sighted (27 percent) exhibited some form of 
behavioral response to the vessels, primarily dispersal or diving. 
Seismic vessels, operating in open water conditions, recorded a total 
of 33 walrus sightings. Marine mammal observers reported 19 incidents 
in which walruses were observed within a predetermined safety zone of 
ensonification, requiring the shutdown of airgun arrays to prevent 
potential injuries. Based upon the transitory nature of the survey 
vessels, and the monitoring reports that noted behavioral reactions of 
the animals to the passage of the vessels, our best assessment is that 
most of these interactions resulted in no more than temporary changes 
in animal behavior.
    Aerial surveys and vessel-based observations of walruses were 
carried out in 1989 and 1990 to examine the responses of walruses to 
drilling operations at three Chukchi Sea drill prospects. Aerial 
surveys documented several thousand walruses in the vicinity of the 
drilling prospects; most of the animals (>90 percent) were closely 
associated with sea ice. Vessel-based observations indicated that 
walrus response to drilling operations was greatest during ice 
management activities. The 1990 survey effort noted that 25 percent of 
walrus groups encountered in the pack ice during icebreaking responded 
by diving into the water, with most reactions occurring within 1 km of 
the ship. The monitoring report, noting that: (1) Walrus distributions 
were closely linked with pack ice; (2) pack ice was near active drill 
prospects for relatively short time periods; and (3) ice passing near 
active prospects contained relatively few animals, concluded that 
effects of the drilling operations on walruses were limited in time, 
geographical scale, and proportion of the affected population.
4. Cumulative Effects
    The following types of past, present, and reasonably foreseeable 
actions and factors have contributed to the environmental baseline 
conditions in the Chukchi Sea and could contribute to potential 
cumulative effects on the Pacific walrus population:
    Commercial and Subsistence Harvest--Walruses have an intrinsically 
low rate of reproduction and, therefore, are limited in their capacity 
to respond to exploitation. In the late 19th century, American whalers 
intensively harvested walruses in the northern Bering and southern 
Chukchi seas. Between 1869 and 1879, catches averaged more than 10,000 
per year, with many more animals struck and lost. The population was 
substantially depleted by the end of the century, and the industry 
collapsed in the early 1900s. Since 1930, the combined walrus harvests 
of the United States and Russia have ranged from 2,300-9,500 animals 
per year. Notable harvest peaks occurred during 1930-1960 (4,500-9,500 
per year) and in the 1980's (5,000-9,000 per year). Commercial hunting 
continued in Russia until 1991 under a quota system of up to 3,000 
animals per year. Since 1992, the harvest of Pacific walruses has been 
limited to the subsistence catch of coastal communities in Alaska and 
Chukotka. Harvest levels through the 1990s ranged from approximately 
2,400-4,700 animals per year. Although recent harvest levels are lower 
than historic highs, the lack of information on population size or 
trend precludes an assessment of sustainable harvest rates.
    Climate Change--Analysis of long-term environmental data sets 
indicate that substantial reductions in both the extent and thickness 
of the arctic sea-ice cover have occurred over the past 20-40 years, 
with record minimum extent in 2002 and again in 2005, and extreme 
minimal in 2003 and 2004. The Chukchi Sea DEIS provides a comprehensive 
literature review regarding potential impacts of diminishing sea ice on 
Arctic marine mammals (V.C.8.b.). Walruses rely on suitable sea ice as 
a substrate for resting between foraging bouts, calving, molting, 
isolation from predators, and protection from storm events. Reasonably 
foreseeable impacts to walruses as a result of diminishing sea ice 
cover include: Shifts in range and abundance; population declines in 
prey species; increased mortalities resulting from storm events; and 
premature separation of females and dependent calves. The juxtaposition 
of sea ice over shallow-shelf habitat suitable for benthic feeding is 
critical to walruses. Recent trends in the Chukchi Sea have resulted in 
seasonal sea-ice retreating off the continental shelf and over deep 
Arctic Ocean waters, presenting significant adaptive challenges to 
walruses in the region. Future studies investigating walrus 
distributions, population status and trends, and habitat use patterns 
in the Chukchi Sea are required to understand and respond to walrus 
conservation and management issues associated with changes in the sea 
ice environment.
    Commercial Fishing and Marine Vessel Traffic--Based on available 
data, walruses rarely interact with commercial fishing and marine 
vessel traffic. Walruses are normally closely associated with sea ice, 
which limits their interactions with fishing vessels and barge traffic. 
However, as previously noted, the temporal and seasonal extent of the 
sea ice is projected to diminish in the future. There has been 
speculation recently that commercial shipping through the Northwest 
Passage is likely to increase in the coming decades. Commercial fishing 
opportunities may also expand should the sea ice continue to diminish. 
The result could be increased temporal and spatial overlap between 
fishing and shipping operations and walrus habitat use and increased 
interactions between walruses and marine vessels.
    Past Offshore Oil and Gas Related Activities--Oil and gas related 
activities have been conducted in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas since 
the late 1960's. Much more oil and gas related activity has occurred in 
the Beaufort Sea than in the Chukchi Sea OCS. Pacific walruses do not 
normally range into the Beaufort Sea, and documented interactions 
between oil and gas activities and walruses have been minimal (see 
Results of Previous Monitoring Studies). The Chukchi Sea OCS has 
previously experienced some oil and gas exploration activity, but no 
development or production. Because of the transitory nature of past oil 
and gas activities in any given region, we do not

[[Page 30684]]

expect that any of these encounters had lasting effects on individuals 
or groups (see Results of Previous Monitoring Studies).
    Contribution of Proposed Activities to Cumulative Impacts--The 
proposed seismic surveys and exploratory drilling operations identified 
by the petitioners are likely to result in some incremental cumulative 
effects to walruses through the potential exclusion or avoidance of 
walruses from feeding or resting areas and disruption of important 
associated biological behaviors. However, relatively few walruses are 
likely to interact with exploration activities in open sea conditions 
where most of the proposed activities are expected to occur. Required 
mitigation measures are also expected to limit the severity of any 
behavioral responses. Therefore, we conclude that the proposed 
exploration activities, especially as mitigated through the regulatory 
process, are not expected to add significantly to the cumulative 
impacts on the Pacific walrus population from past, present, and future 
activities that are reasonably likely to occur within the 5-year period 
covered by the regulations if adopted.
5. Evaluation
    Based on our review of the proposed activities; existing operating 
conditions and mitigation measures; information on the biology, 
ecology, and habitat use patterns of walruses in the Chukchi Sea; 
information on potential effects of oil and gas activities on walruses; 
and the results of previous monitoring efforts associated with Industry 
activity in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, we conclude that, while the 
incidental take (by harassment) of walruses is reasonably likely to or 
reasonably expected to occur as a result of the proposed activities, 
most anticipated takes will be limited to temporary, nonlethal 
disturbances impacting a relatively small proportion of the Pacific 
walrus population. It is unlikely that there will be any lethal take 
due to Industry activities.
    We propose a finding that the total expected takings of walruses 
associated with the proposed activities will have a negligible impact 
on this species. This proposed finding is based on the supposition that 
most of the Pacific walrus population will be associated with sea ice 
during the operating season; that relatively few animals will be found 
in areas of open water where proposed activities will occur; and, that 
required mitigation measures will reduce the intensity of disturbance 
events to short-term behavioral responses. Site-specific monitoring 
programs and adaptive mitigation measures will be used to ensure that 
impacts associated with the proposed activities are not greater than 
anticipated. Additional mitigation measures described in the proposed 
rule will help reduce the level of Industry impacts to walruses during 
exploration activities through the promulgation of incidental take 
regulations and the issuance of LOAs with site-specific operating 
restrictions and monitoring requirements, which will provide an 
additional level of mitigation and protection for walruses.

Polar Bears

1. Disturbance
    In the Chukchi Sea, polar bears will have a limited presence during 
the open-water season during Industry operations. It is assumed they 
generally move to the northwestern portion of the Chukchi Sea and 
distribute along the pack ice during this time, which is outside of the 
geographic region. This limits the chances of impacts on polar bears 
from Industry activities. Although polar bears have been documented in 
open-water, miles from the ice edge or ice floes, this has been a 
relatively rare occurrence.
A. Offshore Activities
    In the open-water season, Industry activities will be generally 
limited to vessel-based exploration activities, such as seismic surveys 
and site clearance surveys. These activities avoid ice floes and the 
multi-year ice edge; however, they could contact a limited number of 
bears in open water.
    Seismic exploration activities in the Chukchi Sea could affect 
polar bears in a number of ways. Seismic ships and icebreakers may be 
physical obstructions to polar bear movements, although these impacts 
are of short term and localized effect. Noise, sights, and smells 
produced by exploration activities could repel or attract bears, either 
disrupting their natural behavior or endangering them by threatening 
the safety of seismic personnel.
    Little research has been conducted on the effects of noise on polar 
bears. Polar bears are curious and tend to investigate novel sights, 
smells, and possibly noises. Noise produced by seismic activities could 
elicit several different responses in polar bears. Noise may act as a 
deterrent to bears entering the area of operation, or the noise could 
potentially attract curious bears.
    In general, little is known about the potential for seismic survey 
sounds to cause auditory impairment or other physical effects in polar 
bears. Available data suggest that such effects, if they occur at all, 
would be limited to short distances and probably to projects involving 
large airgun arrays. There is no evidence that airgun pulses can cause 
serious injury, or death, even in the case of large airgun arrays. 
Also, the planned monitoring and mitigation measures include shut-downs 
of the airguns, which will reduce any such effects that might otherwise 
occur. Polar bears normally swim with their heads above the surface, 
where underwater noises are weak or undetectable. Thus, it is doubtful 
that any single bear would be exposed to strong underwater seismic 
sounds long enough for significant disturbance to develop.
    Polar bears are known to run from sources of noise and the sight of 
vessels or icebreakers, aircraft, and helicopters. The effects of 
fleeing from aircraft may be minimal if the event is short and the 
animal is otherwise unstressed. On a warm spring or summer day, a short 
run may be enough to overheat a well-insulated polar bear; however, 
fleeing from a working icebreaker may have minimal effects for a 
healthy animal on a cool day.
    As already stated, it is assumed that polar bears spend the 
majority of their time on pack ice during the open-water season in the 
Chukchi Sea, which limits the chance of impacts from human and industry 
activities. In recent years, the Chukchi Sea pack ice has receded over 
the Continental Shelf during the open water season. Although this poses 
potential foraging ramifications, by its nature the exposed open water 
creates a barrier between the majority of the ice pack-bound bear 
population and human activity occurring in open water.
    Researchers have observed that in some cases bears swim long 
distances during the open-water period seeking either ice or land. In 
2005, researchers monitored one radio-collared individual as it swam 
through ice-free waters from Kotzebue north to the pack ice 350 miles 
away. The bear began swimming on June 16, 2005, rested twice in open 
water, presumably on icebergs and eventually reached the pack ice on 
July 2, 2005. Researchers suspected that the bear was not swimming 
constantly, but found solitary icebergs or remnants to haul-out on and 
rest. The movement is unusual, but highlights the ice-free environment 
that bears are being increasingly exposed to that requires increased 
energy demands.
    In addition, swimming bears could become vulnerable to exhaustion 
and storm events with large waves because ice floes dissipate and 
become unavailable or unsuitable for use as haulouts or resting 
platforms. In the fall of 2004, four drowned polar bears were

[[Page 30685]]

observed in the Beaufort Sea during an MMS coastal aerial survey 
    Seismic activities avoid ice floes and the pack-ice edge; however, 
they may contact bears in open water. It is unlikely that seismic 
exploration activities would result in more than temporary behavioral 
disturbance to polar bears.
    Vessel traffic could result in short-term behavioral disturbance to 
polar bears. If a ship is surrounded by ice, it is more likely that 
curious bears will approach. Any on-ice activities required by 
exploration activities create the opportunity for bear-human 
interactions. In relatively ice-free waters, polar bears are less 
likely to approach ships, although they could be encountered on ice 
floes. For example, during the late 1980s, at the Belcher exploration 
drilling site in the Beaufort Sea, in a period of little ice, a large 
floe threatened the drill rig at the site. After the floe was moved by 
an icebreaker, workers noticed a female bear with a cub-of-the-year and 
a lone adult swimming nearby. It was assumed these bears had been 
disturbed from the ice floe.
    Ships and ice breakers may act as physical obstructions, altering 
or intercepting bear movements in the spring during the start-up period 
for exploration if they transit through a restricted lead system, such 
as the Chukchi Polyna. Polynas are important habitat for polar bears 
and other marine mammals, which makes them important hunting areas for 
polar bears. A similar situation could occur in the fall when the pack-
ice begins to expand. Separation of polar bears, whether on land or ice 
or in water, and marine vessels by creating an operational exclusion 
zone would limit potential impact of marine vessels to polar bears.
    Routine aircraft traffic should have little to no effect on polar 
bears; however, extensive or repeated over-flights of fixed-wing 
aircraft or helicopters could disturb polar bears. Behavioral reactions 
of polar bears are expected to be limited to short-term changes in 
behavior that would have no long-term impact on individuals and no 
impacts on the polar bear population.
    Monitoring and mitigation measures required for open water, 
offshore activities will include, but will not be limited to (1) a 0.5-
mile operational exclusion zone around polar bear(s) on land, ice or 
swimming; (2) MMOs on board all vessels; (3) requirements for ice-
scouting, (4) surveys for polar bears in the vicinity of active 
operations and ice breaking activities; and (5) operational 
restrictions near polar bear aggregations. These mitigation measures 
are expected to further reduce the potential for interactions between 
polar bears and offshore operations.
B. Onshore Activities
    Onshore activities will have the potential to interact with polar 
bears mainly during the fall and ice-covered season when bears come 
ashore to feed, den, or travel. Noise produced by Industry activities 
during the open-water and ice-covered seasons could potentially result 
in takes of polar bears at onshore activities. During the ice-covered 
season, denning female bears, as well as mobile, non-denning bears, 
could be exposed to oil and gas activities, such as seismic exploration 
or exploratory drilling facilities, and could potentially be affected 
in different ways.
    Noise disturbance can originate from either stationary or mobile 
sources. Stationary sources include exploratory drilling operations and 
their associated facilities. Mobile sources include ice road 
construction and associated vehicle traffic, including: tracked 
vehicles and snowmobiles, aircraft traffic, and vibroseis programs.
    Noise produced by stationary Industry activities could elicit 
several different responses in polar bears. The noise may act as a 
deterrent to bears entering the area, or the noise could potentially 
attract bears. Attracting bears to these facilities, especially 
exploration facilities in the coastal or nearshore environment, could 
result in human-bear encounters, which could result in unintentional 
harassment, lethal take, or intentional hazing (under separate 
authorization) of the bear.
    During the ice-covered season, noise and vibration from exploratory 
drilling facilities could deter females from denning in the surrounding 
area, although polar bears have been known to den in close proximity to 
industrial activities without any perceived impacts. For example, in 
1991, two maternity dens were located on the south shore of a barrier 
island within 2.8 km (1.7 mi) of a production facility. In addition, 
during the ice-covered season of 2001-2002, two known polar bear dens 
were located within approximately 0.4 km and 0.8 km (0.25 mi and 0.5 
mi) of remediation activities on Flaxman Island in the Beaufort Sea 
without any observed impact to denning success or the polar bears.
    In contrast, information exists indicating that polar bears may 
have abandoned dens in the past due to exposure to human disturbance. 
For example, in January 1985, a female polar bear may have abandoned 
her den due to rolligon traffic, which occurred between 250 and 500 
meters from the den site. Researcher disturbance created by camp 
proximity and associated noise, which occurred during a den emergence 
study in 2002 on the North Slope, may have caused a female bear and her 
cub(s) to abandon their den and move to the ice sooner than necessary. 
The female was observed later without the cub(s). While such events may 
have occurred, information indicates they have been infrequent and 
    In addition, polar bears exposed to routine industrial noises may 
acclimate to those noises and show less vigilance than bears not 
exposed to such stimuli. This implication came from a study that 
occurred in conjunction with industrial activities performed on Flaxman 
Island in 2002 and a study of undisturbed dens in 2002 and 2003 (N = 
8). Researchers assessed vigilant behavior with two potential measures 
of disturbance: proportion of time scanning their surroundings and the 
frequency of observable vigilant behaviors. Bears exposed to industrial 
activity spent less time scanning their surroundings than bears in 
undisturbed areas and engaged in vigilant behavior significantly less 
    As with offshore activities, routine aircraft traffic should have 
little to no effect on polar bears; however, extensive or repeated 
over-flights of fixed-wing aircraft for monitoring purposes or 
helicopters used for re-supply of Industry operations could disturb 
polar bears. Behavioral reactions of non-denning polar bears are expect 
to be limited to short-term changes in behavior and would have no long-
term impact on individuals and no impacts on the polar bear population. 
In contrast, denning bears could abandon or depart their dens early in 
response to repeated noise such as that produced by extensive aircraft 
over-flights. Mitigation measures, such as minimum flight elevations 
over polar bears or areas of concern and flight restrictions around 
known polar bear dens, will be required, as appropriate, to reduce the 
likelihood that bears are disturbed by aircraft.
    Noise and vibrations produced by vibroseis activities during the 
ice-covered season could potentially result in impacts on polar bears. 
During this time of year, denning female bears as well as mobile, non-
denning bears could be exposed to and affected differently by potential 
impacts from seismic activities. The best available scientific 
information indicates that female polar bears entering dens, or females 
in dens with cubs, are more sensitive than other age and sex groups to 
noises. Standardized mitigation measures will be implemented to limit 
or minimize

[[Page 30686]]

disturbance impacts to denning females. These Industry mitigation 
measures are currently in place in the Beaufort Sea and are implemented 
when necessary through LOAs and will be implemented in the Chukchi Sea.
    In the case of exploratory seismic or drilling activities occurring 
around a known bear den, each LOA will require Industry to have 
developed a polar bear interaction plan and will require Industry to 
maintain a 1-mile buffer between industry activities and known denning 
sites to limit disturbance to the bear. In addition, we may require 
Industry to avoid working in known denning habitat depending on the 
type of activity, the location of activity and the timing of the 
activity. To further reduce the potential for disturbance to denning 
females, we have conducted research, in cooperation with Industry, to 
enable us to accurately detect active polar bear dens through the use 
of Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) imagery.
    FLIR imagery, as a mitigation tool, is used in cooperation with 
coastal polar bear denning habitat maps and scent-trained dogs. 
Industry activity areas, such as coastal ice roads, are compared to 
polar bear denning habitat and transects are then created to survey the 
specific habitat within the industry area. FLIR heat signatures within 
a standardized den protocol are noted and further mitigation measures 
are placed around these locations. These measures include the 1-mile 
operational exclusion zone or increased monitoring of the site. FLIR 
surveys are more effective at detecting polar bear dens than visual 
observations. The effectiveness increases when FLIR surveys are 
combined with site-specific, scent-trained dog surveys.
    Based on these evaluations, the use of FLIR technology, coupled 
with trained dogs, to locate or verify occupied polar bear dens, is a 
viable technique that helps to minimize impacts of oil and gas industry 
activities on denning polar bears. These techniques will continue to be 
required as conditions of LOAs when appropriate.
    In addition, Industry has sponsored cooperative research evaluating 
transmission of noise and vibration through the ground, snow, ice, and 
air and the received levels of noise and vibration in polar bear dens. 
This information has been useful to refine site-specific mitigation 
measures and placement of facilities.
    Furthermore, as part of the LOA application for seismic surveys 
during denning season, Industry provides us with the proposed seismic 
survey routes. To minimize the likelihood of disturbance to denning 
females, we evaluate these routes along with information about known 
polar bear dens, historic denning sites, and delineated denning 
habitat. Should a potential denning site be identified along the survey 
route, FLIR or polar bear scent-trained dogs, or both, will be used to 
determine whether the den is occupied, in which case a 1-mile buffer 
surrounding the den will be required.
    There is the potential for Industry activities other than seismic, 
such as transport activities and ice road construction, to contact 
polar bear dens as well. Known polar bear dens around the oil and gas 
activities are monitored by the Service, when practicable. Only a small 
percentage of the total active den locations are known in any year. 
Industry routinely coordinates with the Service to determine the 
location of Industry's activities relative to known dens. General LOA 
provisions will be similar to those imposed on seismic activities and 
will require Industry operations to avoid known polar bear dens by 1 
mile. There is the possibility that an unknown den may be encountered 
during Industry activities. Industry is required to contact the 
Service, if a previously unknown den is identified. Communication 
between Industry and the Service and the implementation of mitigation 
measures, such as the 1-mile operational exclusion area around known 
dens, would ensure that disturbance is minimized.
    Human encounters can be dangerous for both the polar bear and the 
human. These can occur during an onshore vibroseis program or at a 
drilling facility. Whenever humans work in the habitat of the animal, 
there is a chance of an encounter, even though, historically, such 
encounters have been uncommon in association with Industry.
    Encounters are more likely to occur during fall and winter periods 
when greater numbers of the bears are found in the coastal environment 
searching for food and possibly den sites later in the season. 
Potentially dangerous encounters are most likely to occur at coastal 
exploratory sites. In the Beaufort Sea, Industry has developed and uses 
devices to aid in detecting polar bears, including bear monitors, 
motion, and infrared detection systems. Industry also takes steps to 
actively prevent bears from accessing facilities using safety gates and 
fences. The types of detection and exclusion systems are implemented on 
a case-by-case basis with guidance from the Service and depend on the 
location and needs of the facility. Industry will implement these same 
mitigative measures in the Chukchi Sea region to minimize disturbance 
of polar bears.
    Onshore drilling sites near the coastline could potentially attract 
polar bears. Polar bears use the coastline as a travel corridor. In the 
Beaufort Sea, the majority of polar bear observations have occurred 
along the coastline. Most bears were observed as passing through the 
area; however, nearshore facilities could potentially increase the rate 
of human-bear encounters, which could result in increased incident of 
harassment of bears. Employee training and company policies through 
interaction plans will be implemented to reduce and mitigate such 
encounters. Based on the history of effective application of 
interaction plans that has resulted in reduced interactions between 
polar bear and humans, no injuries or deaths to humans since the 
implementation of incidental take regulations, the Service concludes 
that interaction plans are an effective means of reducing Industry 
impacts to polar bears.
    Depending upon the circumstances, bears can be either repelled from 
or attracted to sounds, smells, or sights associated with onshore 
Industry activities. In the past, such interactions have been mitigated 
through conditions on the LOA, which require the applicant to develop a 
polar bear interaction plan for each operation. These plans outline the 
steps the applicant will take, such as garbage disposal and snow 
management procedures, to minimize impacts to polar bears by reducing 
the attraction of Industry activities to polar bears. Interaction plans 
also outline the chain of command for responding to a polar bear 
sighting. In addition to interaction plans, Industry personnel 
participate in polar bear interaction training while on site.
    Employee training programs are designed to educate field personnel 
about the dangers of bear encounters and to implement safety procedures 
in the event of a bear sighting. The result of these polar bear 
interaction plans and training allows personnel on site to detect bears 
and respond safely and appropriately. Often, personnel are instructed 
to leave an area where bears are seen. Many times polar bears are 
monitored until they move out of the area. Sometimes, this response 
involves deterring the bear from the site. If it is not possible to 
leave, in most cases bears can be displaced by using forms of 
deterrents, such as vehicles, vehicle horn, vehicle siren, vehicle 
lights, spot lights, or, if necessary, pyrotechnics (e.g., cracker 
shells). The purpose of these plans and training is to eliminate the 
potential for injury to personnel or lethal take of bears in defense of 

[[Page 30687]]

life. Since 1993, when the incidental take regulations became effective 
in the Beaufort Sea, there has been no known instance of a bear being 
killed or Industry personnel being injured by a bear as a result of 
Industry activities. The mitigation measures associated with the 
Beaufort Sea incidental take regulations have proven to minimize human-
bear interactions and will be part of the requirements of future LOAs 
associated with the Chukchi Sea incidental take regulations.
C. Effect on Prey Species
    Ringed seals are the primary prey of polar bears. Bearded seals are 
also a prey source. Industry will mainly have an effect on seals 
through the potential for contamination (oil spills) or industrial 
noise disturbance. Oil and gas activities in the Chukchi Sea are 
anticipated to have the same effects of contamination from oil 
discharges for seals as those described in the current Beaufort Sea 
incidental take regulations (71 FR 43926; August 2, 2006) in the 
section ``Potential Impacts of Waste Product Discharge and Oil Spills 
on Pacific Walruses and Polar Bears'' and the ``Pacific Walruses'' 
subsection of this document). Studies have shown that seals can be 
displaced from certain areas, such as pupping lairs or haulouts, and 
abandon breathing holes near Industry activity. However, these 
disturbances appear to have minor effects and are short term. In the 
Chukchi Sea, offshore operations have the highest potential to impact 
seals; however, due to the seasonal aspect (occurring only during the 
open-water season) of offshore operations, the Service anticipates 
minimal disturbance to ringed and bearded seals. In addition, the 
National Marine Fisheries Service, having jurisdiction over the 
conservation and management of ringed and bearded seals, is evaluating 
the potential impacts of oil and gas exploration activities in the 
Chukchi Sea and will identify appropriate mitigation measures for those 
species, if a negligible finding is appropriate. The Service does not 
expect prey availability to be significantly changed due to Industry 
activities. Mitigation measures for pinnipeds required by MMS and NMFS 
will reduce the impact of Industry activities on ringed and bearded 
2. Waste Discharge and Potential Oil Spills
    Individual polar bears can potentially be affected by Industry 
activities through waste product discharge and oil spills. Spills are 
unintentional releases of oil or petroleum products. In accordance with 
the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit Program, all 
North Slope oil companies must submit an oil spill contingency plan 
with their projects. It is illegal to discharge oil into the 
environment, and a reporting system requires operators to report 
spills. According to MMS, on the Beaufort and Chukchi OCS, the oil 
industry has drilled 35 exploratory wells. During the time of this 
drilling, industry has had 35 small spills totaling 26.7 bbl or 1,120 
gallons (gal). Of the 26.7 bbl spilled, approximately 24 bbl were 
recovered or cleaned up. Larger spills (>1,000 bbl) accounted for much 
of the annual volume. Six large spills occurred between 1985 and 2006 
on the North Slope. These spills were terrestrial in nature and posed 
minimal harm to walruses and polar bears. Based on the history of 
effective application of oil spill plans, to date, no major exploratory 
offshore oil spills have occurred on the North Slope in either the 
Beaufort or Chukchi Seas.
    Historical large spills associated with Alaskan oil and gas 
activities on the North Slope have been production-related, and have 
occurred at production facilities or pipeline connecting wells to the 
Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. MMS estimates the chance of a large 
(>=1,000 bbl) oil spill from exploratory activities in the Chukchi Sea 
to be low based on the types of spills recorded in the Beaufort Sea. 
For this rule, potential oil spills for exploration activities will 
likely occur with the marine vessels. From past experiences, MMS 
believes these will most likely be localized and relatively small. 
Spills in the offshore or onshore environments classified as small 
could occur during normal operations (e.g., transfer of fuel, handling 
of lubricants and liquid products, and general maintenance of 
equipment). Potential large spills in the Chukchi Sea region will 
likely be the result of drilling platforms. Drilling platforms have 
containment ability in case of a blowout, and the amount of release is 
expected to be minimal.
    The possibility of oil and waste product spills from Industry 
activities in the Chukchi Sea and the subsequent impacts on polar bears 
is a concern; however, due to the type of Industry activity planned for 
the area, the potential for spills would be limited to the open-water 
season in the offshore. Hence, polar bears could encounter oil spills 
during the open-water and ice-covered seasons in offshore or onshore 
habitat. Although the majority of the Chukchi Sea polar bear population 
spends a large amount of their time offshore on the pack ice, some 
bears are likely to encounter oil from a spill regardless of the season 
and location.
    Small spills of oil or waste products throughout the year by 
Industry activities on land could potentially impact small numbers of 
bears. The effects of fouling fur or ingesting oil or wastes, depending 
on the amount of oil or wastes involved, could be short term or result 
in death. For example, in April 1988, a dead polar bear was found on 
Leavitt Island, in the Beaufort Sea, approximately 9.3 km (5 nautical 
miles) northeast of Oliktok Point. The cause of death was determined to 
be poisoning by a mixture that included ethylene glycol and Rhodamine B 
dye; however, the source of the mixture was unknown.
    During the ice-covered season, mobile, non-denning bears would have 
a higher probability of encountering oil or other Industry wastes in 
the onshore environment than non-mobile, denning females as terrestrial 
and ocean habitats are available. Current management practices by 
Industry, such as requiring the proper use, storage, and disposal of 
hazardous materials, minimize the potential occurrence of such 
incidents. In the event of an oil spill, it is also likely that polar 
bears would be intentionally hazed to keep them away from the area, 
further reducing the likelihood of impacting individuals or the 
    Oil exposure by polar bears could occur through the consumption of 
contaminated prey, and by grooming or nursing affecting motility, 
digestion, and absorption. Death could occur if a large amount of oil 
were ingested. Oiling can also cause thermoregulatory problems and 
damage to various systems, such as the respiratory and the central 
nervous systems, depending on the amount of exposure. Oil may also 
affect the prey base of polar bears where possible impacts from the 
loss of a food source could reduce recruitment or survival; however, 
because no production activities are planned for the Chukchi Sea during 
the duration of these proposed regulations, the Service does not expect 
prey availability to be significantly changed due to Industry 
activities. A detailed description of potential effects of exposure to 
oil by polar bears can be found in the Beaufort Sea Incidental Take 
Regulations (71 FR 43926; August 2, 2006).
3. Results of Previous Monitoring Studies
    There is limited information regarding interactions between oil and 
gas activities and polar bears in the Chukchi Sea. In 1990, in 
conjunction with the Shell Western E&P, Inc. walrus monitoring program, 
25 polar bears

[[Page 30688]]

were observed in the pack ice between June 29, and August 11, 1990. 
Seventeen bears were encountered by the Robert LeMeur during ice 
reconnaissance survey before drilling began at the prospects. During 
drilling operations, four bears occurred near (< 9 km or 5 n mi) active 
prospects, and the remainder were considerably beyond (15-40 km or 8-22 
n mi.). These bears responded to the drilling or icebreaking operations 
by approaching (2), watching (9), slowly moving away (7), or ignoring 
(5) the activities; response was not evaluated for two bears. The 
period of exposure to the operations was generally short because 
precautions were taken to minimize disturbances, including adjusting 
cruise courses away from bears. Similar precautions were followed in 
1989 when 18 bears were sighted in the pack ice during the monitoring 
program. The results of the 1990 monitoring program concluded that (1) 
polar bear distributions were closely linked to the pack ice; (2) the 
pack ice was near the active prospects for a relatively brief time; and 
(3) the ice passing near active prospects contained relatively few 
    In 2006, four polar bears were sighted during three oil and gas 
seismic surveys. All the bears were observed by seismic support 
vessels. Three of the four bears were observed walking on ice, and one 
animal was observed swimming. Two of the four reacted to the vessel. 
All four sightings occurred between September 2 and October 3, 2006.
    Five polar bear observations (11 individuals) were recorded during 
the University of Texas at Austin's marine geophysical survey performed 
by the USCG Healy in 2006. This survey was located in the northern 
Chukchi Sea and Arctic Ocean. All bears were observed on the ice 
between July 21 and August 19. No polar bears were in the water where 
they could have received appreciable levels from operating airguns. The 
closest point of approach distances of bears from the USCG Healy ranged 
from 780 m to 2.5 km. One bear was observed approximately 575 m from a 
helicopter conducting ice reconnaissance. Four of the groups exhibited 
possible reactions to the helicopter or vessel, suggesting that 
disturbances from seismic operations can be short-term and limited to 
minor changes in behavior.
    Documented impacts on polar bears by the oil and gas industry in 
the Beaufort Sea during the past 30 years appear minimal. Polar bears 
spend time on land, coming ashore to feed, den, or move to other areas. 
Recently, a change in distribution of polar bears brought about by 
changing climatic conditions has observed more bears than what has 
occurred historically on land. At times, fall storms deposit bears 
along the coastline where bears remain until the ice returns. For this 
reason, polar bears have mainly been encountered at or near most 
coastal and offshore production facilities, or along the roads and 
causeways that link these facilities to the mainland. During those 
periods, the likelihood of interactions between polar bears and 
Industry activities increases. Most bears are observed within a mile 
from the coastline. We expect that this use of habitat will occur along 
the Chukchi Sea coastline as well.
    The majority of actual impacts on polar bears in the Beaufort Sea 
have resulted from direct human-bear encounters. Monitoring efforts by 
Industry required under Beaufort Sea regulations for the incidental 
take of polar bears documented various types of interactions between 
polar bears and Industry. A total of 269 LOAs have been issued for 
incidental (unintentional) take of polar bears in regard to oil and gas 
activities between 1993 to 2005: Approximately 76 percent were for 
exploration activities.
    In 2004, the oil and gas industry reported 89 polar bear sightings 
involving 113 individual bears. Polar bears were more frequently 
sighted during the months of August to January. Seventy-four sightings 
were of single bears and 15 sightings consisted of family groups. 
Offshore oil facilities, Northstar and Endicott, accounted for 63 
percent of all polar bear sightings, 42 percent and 21 percent, 
respectively; documenting Industry activities that occur on or near the 
Beaufort Sea coast have a greater possibility for encountering polar 
bears than Industry activities occurring inland. Fifty-nine percent (n 
= 53) of polar bear sightings consisted of observations of polar bears 
traveling through or resting near the monitored areas without a 
perceived reaction to human presence. Forty-one percent (n = 36) of 
polar bear sightings involved Level B harassment, where bears were 
deterred from industrial areas with no injury.
    We expect the same trends we have seen in the Beaufort Sea to 
continue in the Chukchi Sea. A higher frequency of polar bears will be 
observed during the fall and early winter months; single bears will be 
seen more than family groups; offshore facilities will encounter more 
bears than onshore facilities; and a higher percentage of bears will be 
observed passing through Industry areas than the percentage of bears 
involved in deterrence activities.
    Prior to issuance of regulations, lethal takes by Industry were 
rare. Since 1968, there have been two documented cases of lethal take 
of polar bears associated with oil and gas activities. In both 
instances, the lethal take was reported to be in defense of human life. 
In winter 1968-1969, an Industry employee shot and killed a polar bear. 
In 1990, a female polar bear was killed at a drill site on the west 
side of Camden Bay. In contrast, 33 polar bears were killed in the 
Canadian Northwest Territories from 1976 to 1986 due to encounters with 
Industry. Since the beginning of the incidental take program, which 
includes measures that minimize impacts to the species, no polar bears 
have been killed due to encounters associated with current Industry 
activities on the North Slope. For this reason, Industry has requested 
that these regulations cover only nonlethal, incidental take. We 
anticipate this trend to continue in the Chukchi Sea.
4. Cumulative Effects
    The Polar Bear Status Review describes cumulative effects of oil 
and gas development on polar bears in Alaska. This document can be 
found at: http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/polarbear/issues.htm. The 

status review concentrated on oil and gas development in the Beaufort 
Sea because of the established presence of the Industry in the Beaufort 
Sea. The Service believes the conclusions of the status review will 
apply to Industry activities in the Chukchi Sea during the regulatory 
period as well.
    In 2003, NRC published a description of cumulative effects oil and 
gas development would have on polar bears and seals in Alaska. They 
concluded that:
    (1) ``Industrial activity in the marine waters of the Beaufort Sea 
has been limited and sporadic and likely has not caused serious 
cumulative effects to ringed seals or polar bears.'' Industry activity 
in the Chukchi Sea will be limited to exploration activities, such as 
seismic, drilling, and support vessels.
    (2) ``Careful mitigation can help to reduce the effects of oil and 
gas development and their accumulation, especially if there is no major 
oil spill.'' The Service will be using mitigation measures similar to 
those established in the Beaufort Sea to limit impacts of polar bears 
in the Chukchi Sea. ``However, the effects of full-scale industrial 
development off the North Slope would accumulate through the 
displacement of polar bears and ringed seals from their habitats, 
increased mortality, and decreased reproductive success.'' Full-scale 
development of this nature will not occur during the

[[Page 30689]]

proposed regulatory period in the Chukchi Sea.
    (3) ``A major Beaufort Sea oil spill would have major effects on 
polar bears and ringed seals.'' One of the concerns for future oil and 
gas development is for those activities that occur in the marine 
environment due to the chance for oil spills to impact polar bears or 
their habitats. No production activities are planned for the Chukchi 
Sea during the duration of these proposed regulations. Oil spills as a 
result of exploratory seismic activity could occur in the Chukchi Sea; 
however, the probability of a large spill is expected to be minimal.
    (4) ``Climatic warming at predicted rates in the Beaufort and 
Chukchi sea regions is likely to have serious consequences for ringed 
seals and polar bears, and those effects will accumulate with the 
effects of oil and gas activities in the region.'' A detailed 
description of climate change and its potential effects on polar bears 
can be found at: http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/polarbear/issues.htm and http://www.fws.gov/. Climate change could alter polar 
lter polar 
bear habitat because seasonal changes, such as extended duration of 
open water, may preclude sea ice habitat use by restricting some bears 
to coastal areas. The reduction of sea ice extent, caused by climate 
change, may also affect the timing of polar bear seasonal movements 
between the coastal regions and the pack ice. If the sea ice continues 
to recede as predicted, it is hypothesized that polar bears may spend 
more time on land rather than on sea ice; similar to what has been 
recorded in the Hudson Bay. As with the Beaufort Sea, the challenge in 
the Chukchi Sea will be predicting changes in ice habitat, and coastal 
habitats in relation to changes in polar bear distribution and use of 
    Due to changes in sea ice conditions, the Service anticipates that 
there may be an increased use of terrestrial habitat in the fall period 
by polar bears on the western coast of Alaska and an increased use of 
terrestrial habitat by denning bears in the same area, which may expose 
bears to Industry activity. The mitigation measures will be effective 
in minimizing any additional effects attributed to seasonal shifts in 
distributions of walruses or denning polar bears during the five-year 
timeframe of the regulations. It is likely that, due to potential 
seasonal changes in abundance and distribution of polar bears during 
the fall, more frequent encounters may occur and that Industry may have 
to implement mitigation measures more often, for example, increasing 
polar bear deterrence events. In addition, if additional polar bear den 
locations are detected within industrial activity areas, spatial and 
temporal mitigation measures, including cessation of activities, may be 
instituted more frequently during the five-year period of the rule.
    (5) ``Unless studies to address the potential accumulation of 
effects on North Slope polar bears or ringed seals are designed, 
funded, and conducted over long periods of time, it will be impossible 
to verify whether such effects occur, to measure them, or to explain 
their causes.'' Future studies in the Chukchi Sea will examine polar 
bear habitat use and distribution, reproduction, and survival relative 
to a changing sea ice environment.
    The proposed seismic surveys and exploratory drilling operations 
identified by the petitioners are likely to result in some incremental 
cumulative effects to polar bears through the potential exclusion or 
avoidance of polar bears from feeding, resting, or denning areas and 
disruption of associated biological behaviors. However, the impact 
analysis of the likely range of effects and the likelihood of exposures 
resulting in individual behavioral effects supports a conclusion that 
the activities would result in no more than temporary disturbance 
effects and less than negligible effects on the population.
5. Evaluation
    The Service anticipates that potential impacts of seismic noise, 
physical obstructions, human encounters, prey species, oil spills, and 
cumulative effects on polar bears would be limited to short-term 
changes in behavior that would have no long-term impact on individuals 
nor impacts to the polar bear population. Individual polar bears may be 
observed in the open water during offshore activities, but the majority 
of the population will be found on the pack ice during this time of 
year. It is unlikely that there will be any lethal take due to Industry 
    Potential impacts will be mitigated through various requirements 
stipulated within LOAs. Mitigation measures that will be required for 
all projects include a polar bear interaction plan, and a record of 
communication with affected villages that may serve as the precursor to 
a Plan of Cooperation with the village to mitigate effects of the 
project on subsistence activities. Mitigation measures that will be 
used on a case-by-case basis include the use of trained marine mammal 
observers associated with offshore, marine activities, the use of den 
habitat maps (where appropriate), the use of FLIR or polar bear scent-
trained dogs to determine the presence or absence of dens, timing of 
the activity to limit disturbance around dens, the 1-mile buffer 
surrounding known dens, and suggested work actions around known dens. 
The Service implements certain mitigation measures based on need and 
effectiveness for specific activities based largely on timing and 
location. For example, the Service will implement different mitigation 
measures for a 2-month-long onshore exploration project 20 miles 
inland, than for a drilling project on the coastline. Based on past 
monitoring information, bears are more prevalent in the coastal areas 
than 20 miles inland. Therefore, the monitoring and mitigation measures 
that the Service deems must be implemented to limit the disturbance to 
bears and the measures deemed necessary to limit human-bear 
interactions may differ.
    Potential impacts of Industry waste products and oil spills suggest 
that individual bears could be impacted by this type of disturbance 
were it to occur. Depending on the amount of oil or wastes involved, 
the timing and location of a spill, impacts could be short-term, 
chronic, or lethal. In order for bear population reproduction or 
survival to be impacted, a large-volume oil spill would have to take 
place. The probability of a large oil spill occurring throughout the 
duration of these proposed regulations (5 years) is small to the point 
that a large oil spill is not expected to occur.
    Mitigation measures imposed through MMS lease stipulations are 
designed to avoid Level A harassment (injury), reduce Level B 
harassment, reduce the potential for population-level significant 
adverse effects on polar bears, and avoid an unmitigable adverse impact 
on their availability for subsistence purposes. Additional mitigation 
measures described in the proposed rule will help reduce the level of 
Industry impacts to polar bears during the exploration activities 
through the promulgation of incidental take regulations and the 
issuance of LOAs with site-specific operating restrictions and 
monitoring requirements, which will provide mitigation and protection 
for polar bears. Therefore, we conclude that the proposed exploration 
activities, especially as mitigated through the regulatory process, are 
not expected to have more than negligible impacts on polar bears in the 
Chukchi Sea and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of polar bears for subsistence uses.

[[Page 30690]]

Potential Effects of Oil and Gas Industry Activities on Subsistence 
Uses of Pacific Walruses and Polar Bears

    Walruses and polar bear have cultural and subsistence significance 
to the Inupiat Eskimos inhabiting the north coast of Alaska. Four North 
Slope communities are considered within the potentially affected area: 
Point Hope, Point Lay, Wainwright, and Barrow. The open-water season 
for oil and gas exploration activities coincides with peak walrus 
hunting activities in these communities. The subsistence harvest of 
polar bears can occur year round in the Chukchi Sea, depending on ice 
conditions, with peaks usually occurring in spring and fall.
    Noise and disturbances associated with oil and gas exploration 
activities have the potential to adversely impact subsistence harvests 
of walruses and polar bears by displacing animals beyond the hunting 
range of these communities. Disturbances associated with exploration 
activities could also heighten the sensitivity of animals to humans 
with potential impacts to hunting success. Little information is 
available to predict the effects of exploration activities on the 
subsistence harvest of walruses and polar bears. Hunting success varies 
considerably from year to year because of variable ice and weather 
    The MMS and the petitioners believe that exploration activities can 
be conducted in a manner that will not result in an adverse impact on 
subsistence hunting of marine mammals in the Chukchi Sea. Lease Sale 
Area 193 includes a 25-mile coastal deferral zone, i.e., no lease sales 
will be offered within 25 miles of the coast, which is expected to 
reduce the impacts of exploration activities on subsistence hunting. 
Offshore seismic exploration will be restricted prior to July 1 to 
allow migrating marine mammals the opportunity to disperse from the 
coastal zone. It is noted that support vessels and aircrafts are 
expected to regularly transit the coastal deferral zone and have the 
potential to disturb marine mammals in coastal hunting areas. MMS Lease 
stipulations will require lessees to consult with the subsistence 
communities of Barrow, Wainwright, Point Lay, and Point Hope prior to 
submitting an Operational Plan to MMS for exploration activities. The 
intent of these consultations is to identify any potential conflicts 
between proposed exploration activities and subsistence hunting 
opportunities in the coastal communities. Where potential conflicts are 
identified, MMS may require additional mitigation measures as 
identified by NMFS and USFWS through MMPA authorizations.
    In addition to the existing lease stipulations and mitigation 
measures described above, the Service would also develop additional 
mitigation measures through the proposed incidental take regulations. 
The following LOA stipulations, which will mitigate potential impacts 
to subsistence walrus and polar bear hunting from the proposed 
activities, would apply to incidental take authorizations:
    1. Prior to receipt of an LOA, applicants will be required to 
contact and consult with the communities of Point Hope, Point Lay, 
Wainwright, and Barrow to identify any additional measures to be taken 
to minimize adverse impacts to subsistence hunters in these 
communities. A Plan of Cooperation (POC) will be developed if there is 
concern from community members that the proposed activities will impact 
subsistence uses of Pacific walruses or polar bears. The POC must 
address how applicants will work with the affected Native communities 
and what actions will be taken to avoid interference with subsistence 
hunting of walruses and polar bears. The Service will review the POC 
prior to issuance of the LOA to ensure that any potential adverse 
effects on the availability of the animals are minimized.
    2. Take authorization will not be granted for activities occurring 
within a 40-mile radius of Barrow, Wainwright, Point Hope, or Point 
Lay, unless expressly authorized by these communities through 
consultations or through a POC. This condition is intended to limit 
potential interactions between industry activities and subsistence 
hunting in near-shore environments.
    3. Offshore seismic exploration activities will be authorized only 
during the open-water season, which will not exceed the period of July 
1 to November 30. This condition is intended to allow communities the 
opportunity to participate in subsistence hunts for polar bears without 
interference and to minimize impacts to walruses during the spring 
    4. A 15-mile separation must be maintained between all active 
seismic surveys and/or exploratory drilling operations to mitigate 
cumulative impacts to resting, feeding, and migrating walruses.


    Based on the best scientific information available and the results 
of harvest data, including affected villages, the number of animals 
harvested, the season of the harvests, and the location of hunting 
areas, we find that the effects of the proposed exploration activities 
in the Chukchi Sea region would not have an unmitigable adverse impact 
on the availability of walruses and polar bears for taking for 
subsistence uses during the period of the rule. In making this finding, 
we considered the following: (1) Historical data regarding the timing 
and location of harvests; (2) effectiveness of mitigation measures 
stipulated by MMS-issued operational permits; (3) Service regulations 
for obtaining an LOA at 50 CFR 18.118), which includes requirements for 
community consultations and POCs, as appropriate, between the 
applicants and affected Native communities; (4) effectiveness of 
mitigation measures stipulated by Service issued LOAs; and (5) 
anticipated effects of the applicants' proposed activities on the 
distribution and abundance of walruses and polar bears.

Summary of Take Estimates for Pacific Walruses and Polar Bears

Pacific Walruses

    Based upon previous survey efforts in the region, we expect walrus 
densities to be relatively low in areas of open water where most of the 
proposed activities are expected to occur. Based upon our review of the 
proposed activities, previous monitoring studies, as well as existing 
and proposed mitigation measures, we conclude that, while incidental 
take of walruses is reasonably likely to or reasonably expected to 
occur as a result of the proposed activities, the anticipated takes 
will be limited to nonlethal disturbances, affecting a relatively small 
number of animals and that most disturbances will be relatively short-
term in duration. Furthermore, we do not expect the anticipated level 
of take from the proposed activities to affect the rates of recruitment 
or survival of the Pacific walrus population.

Polar Bears

    Industry exploration activities have the potential to incidentally 
take polar bears. These disturbances are expected to be nonlethal, 
short-term behavioral reactions resulting in displacement, and are not 
expected to have more than a minimal impact on individuals. Polar bears 
could be displaced from the immediate area of activity due to noise and 
vibrations. Alternatively, they could be attracted to sources of noise 
and vibrations out of curiosity, which could result in human-bear 
encounters. It is also possible that noise and human activity from 
stationary sources, such as a drill rig, could keep females from

[[Page 30691]]

denning in the vicinity of the source if activities occur in the late 
fall season when females initiate denning. Furthermore, there is a low 
chance of injury to a bear during a take and it is unlikely that lethal 
takes will occur. Contact with, or ingestion of, oil could also 
potentially affect polar bears. Small oil spills are likely to be 
cleaned up immediately and should have little chance of affecting polar 
bears. The probability of a large spill occurring is small and the 
impact of a large spill would depend on the distribution of the bears 
at the time of the spill, the location and size of the spill, and the 
success of clean-up measures. We do not expect the sum total of these 
disturbances to affect the rates of recruitment or survival of the 
Chukchi-Bering Sea polar bear population.


    We conclude that any take reasonably likely to or reasonably 
expected to occur as a result of projected activities will have no more 
than a negligible impact on the Pacific walrus population or polar 
bears inhabiting the specified geographic region from the (Chukchi/
Bering seas or Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear stocks) and will not 
have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of Pacific 
walruses and polar bears for subsistence uses. Based on the previous 
discussion, we propose the following findings regarding this action:

Impact on Species

    The Service finds that any incidental take reasonably likely to 
result from the effects of oil and gas related exploration activities 
during the period of the rule, in the Chukchi Sea and adjacent western 
coast of Alaska will have no more than a negligible impact on polar 
bears and Pacific walruses in the Chukchi Sea Region. In making this 
finding, we considered the best scientific information available, such 
as: (1) The distribution of the species; (2) the biological 
characteristics of the species; (3) the nature of proposed oil and gas 
industry activities; (4) the potential effects of industry activities 
on the species; (5) the documented impacts of industry activities on 
the species; (6) mitigation measures that will minimize effects; and 
(7) other data provided by monitoring programs in the Beaufort Sea 
(1993-2006) and historically in the Chukchi Sea (1991-1996). We also 
considered the specific Congressional direction in balancing the 
potential for a significant impact with the likelihood of that event 
occurring. The specific Congressional direction that justifies 
balancing probabilities with impacts follows:

    If potential effects of a specified activity are conjectural or 
speculative, a finding of negligible impact may be appropriate. A 
finding of negligible impact may also be appropriate if the 
probability of occurrence is low but the potential effects may be 
significant. In this case, the probability of occurrence of impacts 
must be balanced with the potential severity of harm to the species 
or stock when determining negligible impact. In applying this 
balancing test, the Service will thoroughly evaluate the risks 
involved and the potential impacts on marine mammal populations. 
Such determination will be made based on the best available 
scientific information [53 FR 8474, March 15, 1988; 132 Cong. Rec. S 
16305 (October. 15, 1986)].

    We reviewed the effects of the oil and gas industry activities on 
Pacific walruses and polar bears, which included impacts from noise, 
physical obstructions, human encounters, and small operational oil 
spills. Based on our review of these potential impacts, past LOA 
monitoring reports, and the biology and natural history of Pacific 
walruses and polar bears, we conclude that any incidental take 
reasonably likely to or reasonably expected to occur as a result of 
projected activities will have a negligible impact on Pacific walrus 
and polar bear populations. Furthermore, we do not expect these 
disturbances to affect the rates of recruitment or survival for the 
Pacific walrus and polar bear populations. These regulations do not 
authorize lethal take and we do not anticipate any lethal take will 
    Our finding of ''negligible impact'' applies to oil and gas 
exploration activities. Generic conditions are attached to each LOA. 
These conditions minimize interference with normal breeding, feeding, 
and possible migration patterns to ensure that the effects to the 
species remain negligible. Generic conditions include: (1) These 
regulations do not authorize intentional taking of Pacific walruses or 
polar bears, or lethal incidental take; (2) For the protection of 
pregnant polar bears during denning activities (den selection, 
birthing, and maturation of cubs) in known and confirmed denning areas, 
Industry activities will be restricted in specific locations during 
specified times of the year; (3) Each activity covered by an LOA 
requires a site-specific plan of operation and a site-specific polar 
bear interaction plan. We may also add additional measures depending 
upon site-specific and species-specific concerns. For example, 
restrictions in denning areas will be applied on a case-by-case basis 
after assessing each LOA request and could require pre-activity surveys 
(e.g., aerial surveys, FLIR surveys, or polar bear scent-trained dogs) 
to determine the presence or absence of denning activity and, in known 
denning areas, may require enhanced monitoring or flight restrictions, 
such as minimum flight elevations, if necessary. Monitoring 
requirements and operating restrictions associated with offshore 
drilling operations will include requirements for ice-scouting, surveys 
for walruses and polar bears in the vicinity of active drilling 
operations, requirements for marine mammal observers onboard drill 
ships and ice breakers, and operational restrictions near polar bear 
and walrus aggregations. The Service expects no significant impact to 
these species as a result of these anticipated Industry activities.
    We will analyze the required operation and polar bear interaction 
plans to ensure that the level of activity and possible take will be 
consistent with our finding that total incidental takes will have a 
negligible impact on Pacific walruses and polar bears and, where 
relevant, will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of these species for subsistence uses.
    As we have stated, changes in the sea ice due to climate change 
could alter polar bear habitat. Extended duration of open water may 
preclude sea ice habitat use by restricting some bears to coastal 
areas. The reduction of sea ice extent, caused by climate change, may 
also affect the timing of polar bear seasonal movements between the 
coastal regions and the pack ice. If the sea ice continues to recede as 
predicted, it is hypothesized that polar bears may spend more time on 
land rather than on sea ice. As with the Beaufort Sea, the challenge in 
the Chukchi Sea will be predicting changes in ice habitat, barrier 
islands, and coastal habitats in relation to changes in polar bear 
distribution and use of habitat.
    Climate change over time is a major concern to the Service, and we 
are currently involved in the collection of baseline data to help us 
understand how the effects of climate change will be manifested in 
bears inhabitating the Chukchi Sea region, such as the Chukchi/Bering 
Sea polar bear population (http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/polarbear/issues.htm
). As we gain a better understanding of climate 

change effects on walruses and polar bears, we will incorporate the 
information in future actions. Ongoing studies include those led by the 
USGS Alaska Science Center, in cooperation with the Service, to examine 
polar bear habitat use, reproduction, and survival relative to a 
changing sea-ice

[[Page 30692]]

environment. Specific objectives of the project include: polar bear 
habitat availability and quality influenced by ongoing climate changes 
and the response by polar bears; the effects of polar bear responses to 
climate-induced changes to the sea-ice environment on body condition of 
adults, numbers and sizes of offspring, and survival of offspring to 
weaning (recruitment); and population age structure. The USGS Alaska 
Science Center is also proposing to investigate changes in walrus 
distributions and habitat use patterns in the Chukchi Sea in response 
to diminishing sea-ice cover over the Outer Continental Shelf.

Impact on Subsistence Take

    Based on the best scientific information available and the results 
of harvest data, including affected villages, the number of animals 
harvested, the season of the harvests, and the location of hunting 
areas, we find that the effects of the proposed seismic activities in 
the Chukchi Sea region would not have an unmitigable adverse impact on 
the availability of walruses and polar bears for taking for subsistence 
uses during the period of the rule. In making this finding, we 
considered the following: (1) Historical data regarding the timing and 
location of harvests; (2) effectiveness of mitigation measures 
stipulated by Service regulations for obtaining an LOA at 50 CFR 
18.118, which includes requirements for community consultations and 
Plans of Cooperation, as appropriate, between the applicants and 
affected Native communities; (3) by MMS-issued operational permits; and 
(4) anticipated 5-year effects of Industry proposed activities on 
subsistence hunting.
    Applicants must use methods and conduct activities identified in 
their LOAs in a manner that minimizes to the greatest extent 
practicable adverse impacts on Pacific walruses and polar bears, their 
habitat, and on the availability of these marine mammals for 
subsistence uses. Prior to receipt of an LOA, applicants will be 
required to consult with the Eskimo Walrus Commission and the 
communities of Point Hope, Point Lay, Wainwright, and Barrow to discuss 
potential conflicts with subsistence walrus and polar bear hunting 
caused by the location, timing, and methods of proposed operations. 
Documentation of all consultations must be included in LOA 
applications. Documentation must include meeting minutes, a summary of 
any concerns identified by community members, and the applicant's 
responses to identified concerns. If community concerns suggest that 
the proposed activities could have an adverse impact on the subsistence 
uses of these species, conflict avoidance issues must be addressed 
through a POC.
    Where prescribed, holders of LOAs will be required to have a POC on 
file with the Service and on-site. The POC must address how applicants 
will work with potentially affected Native communities and what actions 
will be taken to avoid interference with subsistence hunting 
opportunities for walruses and polar bears. The POC must include:
    1. A description of the procedures by which the holder of the LOA 
will work and consult with potentially affected subsistence hunters.
    2. A description of specific measures that have been, or will be 
taken to avoid or minimize interference with subsistence hunting of 
walruses and polar bears, and to ensure continued availability of the 
species for subsistence use.
    The Service will review the POC to ensure any potential adverse 
effects on the availability of the animals are minimized. The Service 
will reject POCs if they do not provide adequate safeguards to ensure 
that marine mammals will remain available for subsistence use.
    If there is evidence during the five-year period of the regulations 
that oil and gas activities are affecting the availability of walruses 
or polar bears for take for subsistence uses, we will reevaluate our 
findings regarding permissible limits of take and the measures required 
to ensure continued subsistence hunting opportunities.

Monitoring and Reporting

    The purpose of monitoring requirements is to assess the effects of 
industrial activities on walruses and polar bears to ensure that take 
is consistent with that anticipated in the negligible-impact and 
subsistence use analyses, and to detect any unanticipated effects on 
the species. Holders of LOAs will be required to have an approved, 
site-specific marine mammal monitoring and mitigation plan on file with 
the Service and on site. Marine mammal monitoring and mitigation plans 
must be designed to enumerate the number of walruses and polar bears 
encountered during authorized activities, estimate the number of 
incidental takes which occurred during authorized activities, and 
evaluate the effectiveness of prescribed mitigation measures.
    Monitoring activities are summarized and reported in a formal 
report each year. The applicant must submit an annual monitoring and 
reporting plan at least 90 days prior to the initiation of a proposed 
activity, and the applicant must submit a final monitoring report to us 
no later than 90 days after the completion of the activity. We base 
each year's monitoring objective on the previous year's monitoring 
    We require an approved plan for monitoring and reporting the 
effects of oil and gas industry exploration activities on walruses and 
polar bears prior to issuance of an LOA. We require approval of the 
monitoring results for continued authorization under the LOA.

Specific Stipulations for 2007 Shell Offshore Inc. IHA

    For the 2007 open-water season, the IHA for Shell Offshore Inc. 
(SOI), which is the only applicant for an incidental harassment 
authorization under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA for the 2007 
season, and whose activities are described in Shell's application at 
http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/itr.htm, would include all of the 

prohibitions listed in section 18.117 of this proposed rule and notice, 
as well as any additional prohibitions and restrictions identified 
through (1) a peer review of the marine mammal monitoring and 
mitigation plan as required under section 18.118(a) of this proposed 
rule and notice, and (2) a Plan of Cooperation developed through 
consultations with the communities of Point Hope, Point Lay, 
Wainwright, and Barrow as required under section 18.118(d) of this 
proposed rule and notice. All of the monitoring, mitigation, and 
reporting requirements in sections 18.118(a) through (h) of this 
proposed rule and notice would also be included in the 2007 IHA for SOI 
except for the mitigation measures listed under section 18.118(g)(4), 
(5), and (6), and reporting requirements listed under section 
18.118(h)(4). The mitigation measures listed in section 18.118(g)(4) 
and (5) are not necessary because proposed activities are limited to 
open-water seismic exploration after July 1, with no possibility of 
encountering denning polar bears. The mitigation measure identified in 
section 18.118(g)(6) would not be required because no offshore drilling 
has being proposed. The reporting requirements identified in 
18.118(g)(4) would not be required because no on-shore activity has 
been proposed.

Public Comments Solicited

    We intend that any final action resulting from this proposal will 
be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we solicit 
comments or suggestions from the public, other concerned governmental 
agencies, the

[[Page 30693]]

scientific community, industry, or any other interested party 
concerning this proposed rule.
    If you wish to comment, you may submit your comments and materials 
concerning this proposal by any one of several methods, as listed above 
in ADDRESSES. If you submit comments by e-mail, please submit them as 
an ASCII file format and avoid the use of special characters and 
encryption. Please include ``Attn: [RIN 1018-AU41]'' and your name and 
return address in your e-mail message. Please note that this e-mail 
address will be closed out at the termination of the public comment 
period. Before including your address, phone number, e-mail 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 view, we cannot guarantee that we will be able 
to do so.

Clarity of the Rule

    Executive Order 12866 requires each agency to write regulations 
that are easy to understand. We invite your comments on how to make 
this rule easier to understand, including answers to questions such as 
the following:
    (1) Are the requirements in the rule clearly stated?
    (2) Does the rule contain technical language or jargon that 
interferes with its clarity?
    (3) Does the format of the rule (grouping and order of sections, 
use of headings, paragraphing, etc.) aid or reduce its clarity?
    (4) Would the rule be easier to understand if it were divided into 
more (but shorter) sections? (A ``section'' appears in bold type and is 
preceded by the symbol ``Sec.'' and a numbered heading; for example, 
Sec. 18.113. When is this subpart effective?)
    (5) Is the description of the rule in the ``Supplementary 
Information'' section of the preamble helpful in understanding the 
proposed rule?
    (6) What else could we do to make the rule easier to understand?
    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail 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 view, we cannot guarantee that we will be able 
to do so.

Required Determinations

NEPA Considerations

    We have prepared a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) in 
conjunction with this proposed rulemaking. Subsequent to closure of the 
comment period for this proposed rule, we will decide whether this is a 
major Federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human 
environment within the meaning of Section 102(2)(C) of the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. For a copy of the draft 
Environmental Assessment, contact the individual identified above in 

Endangered Species Act

    In light of the Service's recent proposed rule to list polar bears 
as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (72 FR 
1064, January 9, 2007), additional regulatory requirements may be 
necessary for any agency actions affecting polar bears. Currently, 
since polar bears are proposed for listing but not actually listed, 
conferencing under section 7(a)(4) of the ESA is required if an agency 
action is ``likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any species 
proposed to be listed under section 4 [of the ESA] or result in the 
destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat proposed to be 
designated for such species.'' Because this proposed rule does not pose 
any likelihood of jeopardy, conferencing is not required.

Regulatory Planning and Review

    This document has not been reviewed by the Office of Management and 
Budget under Executive Order 12866 (Regulatory Planning and Review). 
This rule, if adopted, will not have an effect of $100 million or more 
on the economy; will not adversely affect in a material way the 
economy, productivity, competition, jobs, environment, public health or 
safety, of State, local, or tribal governments or communities; will not 
create a serious inconsistency or otherwise interfere with an action 
taken or planned by another agency; does not alter the budgetary 
effects of entitlements, grants, user fees, or loan programs or the 
rights or obligations of their recipients; and does not raise novel 
legal or policy issues.
    Expenses will be related to, but not necessarily limited to, the 
development of applications for regulations and LOAs, monitoring, 
recordkeeping, and reporting activities conducted during Industry oil 
and gas operations, development of polar bear interaction plans, and 
coordination with Alaska Natives to minimize effects of operations on 
subsistence hunting. Compliance with the rule is not expected to result 
in additional costs to Industry that it has not already been subjected 
to for the previous 6 years. Realistically, these costs are minimal in 
comparison to those related to actual oil and gas exploration 
operations. The actual costs to Industry to develop the petition for 
promulgation of regulations (originally developed in 2005) and LOA 
requests do not exceed $500,000 per year, short of the ``major rule'' 
threshold that would require preparation of a regulatory impact 
analysis. As is presently the case, profits would accrue to Industry; 
royalties and taxes would accrue to the Government; and the rule would 
have little or no impact on decisions by Industry to relinquish tracts 
and write off bonus payments.

Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act

    We have determined that this rule, if adopted, would not be a major 
rule under 5 U.S.C. 804(2), the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement 
Fairness Act. The rule, if adopted, is also not likely to result in a 
major increase in costs or prices for consumers, individual industries, 
or government agencies or have significant adverse effects on 
competition, employment, productivity, innovation, or on the ability of 
United States-based enterprises to compete with foreign-based 
enterprises in domestic or export markets.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

    We have also determined that this rule, if adopted, will not have a 
significant economic effect on a substantial number of small entities 
under the Regulatory Flexibility Act, 5 U.S.C. 601 et seq. Oil 
companies and their contractors conducting exploration, development, 
and production activities in Alaska have been identified as the only 
likely applicants under the regulations. Therefore, a Regulatory 
Flexibility Analysis is not required. In addition, these potential 
applicants have not been identified as small businesses and, therefore, 
a Small Entity Compliance Guide is not required. The analysis for this 
proposed rule is available from the individual identified above in the 

[[Page 30694]]

Takings Implications

    This rule, if adopted, would not have takings implications under 
Executive Order 12630 because it authorizes the nonlethal, incidental, 
but not intentional, take of walruses and polar bears by oil and gas 
industry companies and thereby exempts these companies from civil and 
criminal liability as long as they operate in compliance with the terms 
of their LOAs. Therefore, a takings implications assessment is not 

Federalism Effects

    This proposed rule does not contain policies with Federalism 
implications sufficient to warrant preparation of a Federalism 
Assessment under Executive Order 13132. The MMPA gives the Service the 
authority and responsibility to protect walruses and polar bears.

Unfunded Mandates Reform Act

    In accordance with the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501, 
et seq.), this rule, if adopted, would not ``significantly or 
uniquely'' affect small governments. A Small Government Agency Plan is 
not required. The Service has determined and certifies pursuant to the 
Unfunded Mandates Reform Act that this rulemaking will not impose a 
cost of $100 million or more in any given year on local or State 
governments or private entities. This rule will not produce a Federal 
mandate of $100 million or greater in any year, i.e., it is not a 
``significant regulatory action'' under the Unfunded Mandates Reform 

Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes

    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, Secretarial Order 
3225, and the Department of the Interior's manual at 512 DM 2, we 
readily acknowledge our responsibility to communicate meaningfully with 
federally recognized Tribes on a Government-to-Government basis. We 
have evaluated possible effects on federally recognized Alaska Native 
tribes. Through the LOA process identified in the regulations, Industry 
presents a Plan of Cooperation with the Native Communities most likely 
to be affected and engages these communities in numerous informational 

Civil Justice Reform

    The Departmental Solicitor's Office has determined that these 
regulations do not unduly burden the judicial system and meet the 
applicable standards provided in Sections 3(a) and 3(b)(2) of Executive 
Order 12988.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    This proposed rule contains information collection requirements. We 
may not conduct or sponsor and a person is not required to respond to a 
collection of information unless it displays a currently valid Office 
of Management and Budget (OMB) control number.
    OMB has approved our collection of information for incidental take 
of marine mammals during specified activities in the Beaufort Sea and 
assigned OMB Control No. 1018-0070, which expires October 31, 2007. We 
are revising this collection to include similar collections of 
information for incidental take of marine mammals in the Chukchi Sea. 
We are submitting a request to OMB to approve this revised collection 
for a 3-year term. We will use the information that we collect to 
evaluate applications for specific incidental take regulations from the 
oil and gas industry to determine whether such regulations, and 
subsequent LOAs, should be issued; the information is needed to 
establish the scope of specific incidental take regulations. The 
information is also required to evaluate impacts of activities on 
species or stocks of marine mammals and on their availability for 
subsistence uses by Alaska Natives. It will ensure that applicants 
considered all available means for minimizing the incidental take 
associated with a specific activity.
    We estimate that up to 20 companies will request LOAs and submit 
monitoring reports annually for the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas regions 
covered by the specific regulations. We estimate that the total annual 
burden associated with the request will be 1,625 hours during years 
when applications for regulations are required and 1,025 hours when 
regulatory applications are not required. This represents an average 
annual estimated burden taken over a 3-year period, which includes the 
initial 300 hours required to complete the request for specific 
procedural regulations. We estimate that there will be an annual 
average of six on-site observation reports per LOA. For each LOA 
expected to be requested and issued subsequent to issuance of specific 
procedural regulations, we estimate that 33.5 hours per project will be 
invested (24 hours will be required to complete each request for an 
LOA, approximately 1.5 hours will be required for onsite observation 
reporting, and 8 hours will be required to complete each final 
monitoring report). The public burden associated with the 3-year period 
covered by this request for information collection authority is 
estimated at 3,675 hours.
    Title: Marine Mammals: Incidental Take of Marine Mammals During 
Specified Activities Applications, 50 CFR 18, Subparts I and J.
    OMB Number: 1018-0070.
    Bureau form number: None.
    Frequency of collection: Semiannual.
    Description of respondents: Oil and gas industry companies.
    Total Annual Responses: 202.
    Total Annual Burden Hours: 1,625.
    We invite interested members of the public and affected agencies to 
comment on these proposed information collection and recordkeeping 
activities. Comments are invited on: (1) Whether or not the collection 
of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions 
of the Service, including whether or not the information will have 
practical utility; (2) the accuracy of our estimate of the burden for 
this collection; (3) ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity 
of the information to be collected; and (4) ways to minimize the burden 
of the collection of information on respondents.
    Send your comments and suggestions on this information collection 
to the Desk Officer for the Department of the Interior at OMB-OIRA at 
(202) 395-6566 (fax) or OIRA_DOCKET@OMB.eop.gov (e-mail). Please 
provide a copy of your comments to Hope Grey, Information Collection 
Clearance Officer, Fish and Wildlife Service, MS 222-ARLSQ, 4401 North 
Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA 22203 (mail); (703) 358-2269 (fax); or 
hope_grey@fws.gov (e-mail).

Energy Effects

    Executive Order 13211 requires agencies to prepare Statements of 
Energy Effects when undertaking certain actions. This proposed rule 
would provide exceptions from the taking prohibitions of the MMPA for 
entities engaged in the exploration of oil and gas in the Chukchi Sea 
and adjacent western coast of Alaska. By providing certainty regarding 
compliance with the MMPA, this rule will have a positive effect on 
Industry and its activities. Although the rule requires Industry to 
take a number of actions, these actions have been undertaken by 
Industry for many years as part of similar past regulations. Therefore, 
this rule is not expected to significantly affect energy supplies, 
distribution, or use and does not constitute a significant energy 
action. No Statement of Energy Effects is required.

[[Page 30695]]

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 18

    Administrative practice and procedure, Alaska, Imports, Indians, 
Marine mammals, Oil and gas exploration, Reporting and recordkeeping 
requirements, Transportation.

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

    For the reasons set forth in the preamble, the Service proposes to 
amend part 18, subchapter B of chapter 1, title 50 of the Code of 
Federal Regulations as set forth below.


    1. The authority citation of 50 CFR part 18 continues to read as 

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.

    2. Amend part 18 by adding a new subpart I to read as follows:

Subpart I--Nonlethal Taking of Pacific Walruses and Polar Bears 
Incidental to Oil and Gas Exploration Activities in the Chukchi Sea 
and Adjacent Coast of Alaska

18.111 What specified activities does this subpart cover?
18.112 In what specified geographic region does this subpart apply?
18.113 When is this subpart effective?
18.114 How do I obtain a Letter of Authorization?
18.115 What criteria does the Service use to evaluate Letter of 
Authorization requests?
18.116 What does a Letter of Authorization allow?
18.117 What activities are prohibited?
18.118 What are the monitoring, mitigation, and reporting 
18.119 What are the information collection requirements?

Sec.  18.111  What specified activities does this subpart cover?

    Regulations in this subpart apply to the nonlethal incidental, but 
not intentional, take of small numbers of Pacific walruses and polar 
bears by you (U.S. citizens as defined in Sec.  18.27(c)) while engaged 
in oil and gas exploration activities in the Chukchi Sea and adjacent 
western coast of Alaska.

Sec.  18.112  In what specified geographic region does this subpart 

    This subpart applies to the specified geographic region defined as 
the continental shelf of the Arctic Ocean adjacent to western Alaska. 
This area includes the waters (State of Alaska and Outer Continental 
Shelf waters) and seabed of the Chukchi Sea, which encompasses all 
waters north and west of Point Hope (68[deg]20'20'' N, -166[deg] 
50'40'' W, BGN 1947) to the U.S.-Russia Convention Line of 1867, west 
of a north-south line through Point Barrow (71[deg]23'29'' N, -
156[deg]28'30'' W, BGN 1944), and up to 200 miles north of Point 
Barrow. The region also includes the terrestrial coastal land 25 miles 
inland between the western boundary of the south National Petroleum 
Reserve--Alaska (NPR-A) near Icy Cape (70[deg]20'00'', -
148[deg]12'00'') and the north-south line from Point Barrow. This 
terrestrial region encompasses a portion of the Northwest and South 
Planning Areas of the NPR-A. Figure 1 shows the area where this subpart 


[[Page 30696]]



Sec.  18.113  When is this subpart effective?

    Regulations in this subpart are effective from [effective date of 
the final rule] through [date 5 years from the effective date of the 
final rule] for year-round oil and gas exploration activities.

Sec.  18.114  How do I obtain a Letter of Authorization?

    (a) You must be a U.S. citizen as defined in Sec.  18.27(c).
    (b) If you are conducting an oil and gas exploration activity in 
the specified geographic region described in Sec.  18.112 that may 
cause the taking of Pacific walruses or polar bears and you want 
nonlethal incidental take authorization under this rule, you must apply 
for a Letter of Authorization for each exploration activity. You must 
submit the application for authorization to our Alaska Regional 
Director (see 50 CFR 2.2 for address) at least 90 days prior to the 
start of the proposed activity.
    (c) Your application for a Letter of Authorization must include the 
following information:
    (1) A description of the activity, the dates and duration of the 
activity, the specific location, and the estimated area affected by 
that activity, i.e., a Plan of Operation.
    (2) A site-specific plan to monitor the effects of the activity on 
the behavior of Pacific walruses and polar bears encountered during the 
ongoing activities, i.e., marine mammal monitoring and mitigation plan. 
Your monitoring program must document the effects to these marine 
mammals and estimate the actual level and type of take. The monitoring 
requirements will vary depending on the activity, the location, and the 
time of year.
    (3) A site-specific polar bear awareness and interaction plan, 
i.e., polar bear interaction plan.
    (4) A Plan of Cooperation to mitigate potential conflicts between 
the proposed activity and subsistence hunting, where relevant. This 
Plan of Cooperation must identify measures to minimize adverse effects 
on the availability of Pacific walruses and polar bears for subsistence 
uses if the activity takes place in or near a traditional subsistence 
hunting area. Some of these measures could include, but are not limited 
to, mitigation measures described in Sec.  18.118.

Sec.  18.115  What criteria does the Service use to evaluate Letter of 
Authorization requests?

    (a) We will evaluate each request for a Letter of Authorization 
based on the specific activity and the specific geographic location. We 
will determine whether the level of activity identified in the request 
exceeds that analyzed by us in making a finding of negligible impact on 
the species and a finding of no unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of the species for take for subsistence uses. If the level 
of activity is greater, we will reevaluate our

[[Page 30697]]

findings to determine if those findings continue to be appropriate 
based on the greater level of activity that you have requested. 
Depending on the results of the evaluation, we may grant the 
authorization, add further conditions, or deny the authorization.
    (b) In accordance with Sec.  18.27(f)(5), we will make decisions 
concerning withdrawals of Letters of Authorization, either on an 
individual or class basis, only after notice and opportunity for public 
    (c) The requirement for notice and public comment in paragraph (b) 
of this section will not apply if we determine that an emergency exists 
that poses a significant risk to the well-being of species or stocks of 
Pacific walruses or polar bears.

Sec.  18.116  What does a Letter of Authorization allow?

    (a) Your Letter of Authorization may allow the nonlethal 
incidental, but not intentional, take of Pacific walruses and polar 
bears when you are carrying out one or more of the following 
    (1) Conducting geological and geophysical surveys and associated 
    (2) Drilling exploratory wells and associated activities; or
    (3) Conducting environmental monitoring activities associated with 
exploration activities to determine specific impacts of each activity.
    (b) You must use methods and conduct activities identified in your 
Letter of Authorization in a manner that minimizes to the greatest 
extent practicable adverse impacts on Pacific walruses and polar bears, 
their habitat, and on the availability of these marine mammals for 
subsistence uses.
    (c) Each Letter of Authorization will identify conditions or 
methods that are specific to the activity and location.

Sec.  18.117  What activities are prohibited?

    (a) Intentional take and lethal incidental take of Pacific walruses 
or polar bears; and
    (b) Any take that fails to comply with this part or with the terms 
and conditions of your Letter of Authorization.

Sec.  18.118  What are the monitoring, mitigation, and reporting 

    We require holders of Letters of Authorization to cooperate with us 
and other designated Federal, State, and local agencies to monitor the 
impacts of oil and gas exploration activities on Pacific walruses or 
polar bears.
    (a) Marine mammal monitoring and mitigation plan. (1) Holders of 
Letters of Authorization will be required to have a Service-approved, 
site-specific marine mammal monitoring and mitigation plan on file with 
the Service and on site. Marine mammal monitoring and mitigation plans 
must enumerate the number of walruses and polar bears encountered 
during specified exploration activities, estimate the number of 
incidental takes that occurred during specified exploration activities, 
and evaluate the effectiveness of prescribed mitigation measures.
    (2) Applicants must fund an independent peer review of proposed 
monitoring plans and draft reports of monitoring results. This peer 
review will consist of independent reviewers who have knowledge and 
experience in statistics, marine mammal behavior, and the type and 
extent of the proposed operations. The applicant will provide the 
results of these peer reviews to the Service for consideration in final 
approval of marine mammal monitoring and mitigation plans and final 
reports. The Service will distribute copies of marine mammal monitoring 
and mitigation plans and reports to appropriate resource management 
agencies and co-management organizations.
    (b) Marine mammal observer. Holders of Letters of Authorization 
must designate a qualified individual or individuals to observe, 
record, and report on the effects of their activities on Pacific 
walruses or polar bears. The person or persons designated to observe 
and record the effects of exploration activities must be approved by 
the Service.
    (c) Polar bear interaction plan. Holders of Letters of 
Authorization are required to have a polar bear interaction plan on 
file with the Service and on site, and polar bear awareness training 
will also be required of certain personnel. Polar bear interaction 
plans will include:
    (1) The type of activity and where and when the activity will 
occur, i.e., a plan of operation;
    (2) A food and waste management plan;
    (3) Personnel training materials and procedures;
    (4) Site at-risk locations and situations;
    (5) A snow management plan;
    (6) Polar bear observation and reporting procedures; and
    (7) Polar bear avoidance and encounter procedures.
    (d) Minimizing effects on subsistence uses. Applicants must use 
methods and conduct activities identified in their Letter of 
Authorization in a manner that, to the greatest extent practicable, 
minimizes adverse impacts on Pacific walruses and polar bears, their 
habitat, and on the availability of these marine mammals for 
subsistence uses.
    (1) Prior to receipt of a Letter of Authorization, applicants must 
consult with affected communities and appropriate marine mammal 
management groups to discuss potential conflicts with subsistence 
walrus and polar bear hunting caused by the location, timing, and 
methods of proposed operations. These communities and groups are the 
Eskimo Walrus Commission and the Alaska Nanuuq Commission and the 
communities of Point Hope, Point Lay, Wainwright, and Barrow.
    (2) In the application for a Letter of Authorization, applicants 
must include documentation of all consultations. Documentation can 
include meeting minutes, a summary of any concerns identified by 
community members, and the applicant's responses to identified 
    (3) If community concerns suggest that the proposed activities may 
have an adverse impact on the subsistence uses of these species, the 
applicant must address conflict avoidance issues through a Plan of 
Cooperation as described in paragraph (e) of this section.
    (e) Plan of Cooperation. Where prescribed, holders of Letters of 
Authorization will be required to have a Plan of Cooperation on file 
with the Service and on site. The Plan of Cooperation must address how 
applicants will work with potentially affected Native communities and 
what actions will be taken to avoid interference with subsistence 
hunting opportunities for walruses and polar bears beyond those 
stipulations in the incidental take regulations and individual Letters 
of Authorization.
    (1) The Plan of Cooperation must include:
    (i) A description of the procedures by which the holder of the 
Letter of Authorization will work and consult with potentially affected 
subsistence hunters; and
    (ii) A description of specific measures that have been or will be 
taken to avoid or minimize interference with subsistence hunting of 
walruses and polar bears and to ensure continued availability of the 
species for subsistence use.
    (2) The Service will review the Plan of Cooperation to ensure that 
any potential adverse effects on the availability of the animals are 
minimized. The Service will reject Plans of Cooperation if they do not 
provide adequate safeguards to ensure the least practicable adverse 
impact on the

[[Page 30698]]

availability of walruses and polar bears for subsistence use.
    (f) Required mitigation measures. Mitigation measures that will be 
required for all projects include:
    (1) A Service-approved marine mammal monitoring and mitigation plan 
as described in paragraph (a) of this section.
    (2) A Service-approved polar bear interaction plan as described in 
paragraph (c) of this section.
    (3) A record of communication with potentially affected villages to 
mitigate adverse effects of the project on subsistence activities. This 
record may be the precursor to a Plan of Cooperation as described in 
paragraph (e) of this section.
    (4) For marine vessels, a \1/2\-mile operational exclusion zone 
around any walruses or polar bears observed on land or ice.
    (5) For aircraft, a 1,000-foot minimum altitude within \1/2\ mile 
of hauled out Pacific walruses.
    (6) Polar bear monitors under the marine mammal monitoring and 
mitigation plan if polar bears are known to frequent the area or known 
polar bear dens are present in the area. Monitors will act as an early 
detection system in regard to proximate bear activity to Industry 
    (g) Possible additional mitigation measures. Mitigation measures 
that we may require on a case-by-case basis as appropriate include:
    (1) The use of marine mammal observers associated with all offshore 
exploration activities.
    (i) Marine mammal observers must have completed a marine mammal 
observer training course approved by the Service. Operators may use 
observers trained by third parties, may send crew for training 
conducted by third parties, or may develop their own training program. 
To obtain Service approval, all training programs must:
    (A) Furnish to the Service a course information packet that 
includes the name and qualifications (i.e., experience, training 
completed, and educational background) of the instructor(s), the course 
outline or syllabus, and course reference material;
    (B) Furnish each trainee with a document verifying successful 
completion of the course; and
    (C) Provide the Service with names, affiliations, and dates of 
course completion of trainees.
    (ii) The training course must include the following elements:
    (A) Overview of the Marine Mammal Protection Act as it relates to 
seismic acquisition and protection of marine mammals;
    (B) Overview of seismic acquisition operations;
    (C) Overview of mitigation measures and the marine mammal 
monitoring program; and
    (D) Discussion of the role and responsibilities of the marine 
mammal observer, including:
    (1) Regulatory requirements (why the observer is here and what that 
person does);
    (2) Authority of the marine mammal observer to call for shut-down 
of seismic acquisition operations;
    (3) Assigned duties;
    (4) Reporting of violations and coercion;
    (5) Identification of arctic marine mammal species, including 
various age and sex classes of Pacific walruses;
    (6) Cues and search methods for locating marine mammals; and
    (7) Data collection and reporting requirements.
    (2) Mitigation measures for offshore seismic exploration 
activities. Such mitigation measures will include:
    (i) Spacing of activities. Operators must maintain a minimum 
spacing of 15 miles between all seismic-source vessels and/or 
exploratory drilling operations to mitigate cumulative impacts to 
resting, feeding, and migrating walruses.
    (ii) Exclusion zone. An exclusion zone at and below the sea surface 
within a radius defined by a 180-decibel (dB) isopleth (for walruses) 
and a 190-dB isopleth (for polar bears) from the center of the sound 
source must be free of walruses and polar bears before the survey can 
begin and must remain free of walruses and polar bears during the 
seismic survey.
    (iii) Monitoring of the exclusion zone. Trained marine mammal 
observers will monitor the area around the survey for the presence of 
walruses and polar bears to maintain a marine mammal-free exclusion 
zone and monitor for avoidance or take behaviors.
    (iv) Ramp-up procedures. For all seismic surveys, including airgun 
testing, use the following ramp-up procedures to allow marine mammals 
to depart the exclusion zone before seismic surveying begins:
    (A) Visually monitor the exclusion zone and adjacent waters for the 
absence of polar bears and walruses for at least 30 minutes before 
initiating ramp-up procedures. If no polar bears or walruses are 
detected, you may initiate ramp-up procedures. Do not initiate ramp-up 
procedures at night or when you cannot visually monitor the exclusion 
zone for marine mammals.
    (B) 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 (in3).
    (C) 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.
    (D) Immediately shut down all airguns and cease seismic operations 
at any time a polar bear or walrus mammal is detected entering or 
within the exclusion zone. You may recommence seismic operations and 
ramp-up of airguns only when the exclusion zone has been visually 
inspected for at least 30 minutes to ensure the absence of walruses and 
polar bears.
    (E) You may reduce the source level of the airgun array, using the 
same shot interval as the seismic survey, to maintain a minimum source 
level of 160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa-m (rms) for the duration of certain 
activities. By maintaining the minimum source level, you will not be 
required to conduct the 30-minute visual clearance of the exclusion 
zone before ramping back up to full output.
    (1) Activities that are appropriate for maintaining the minimum 
source level include turns between transect lines, when a survey using 
the full array is being conducted immediately prior to the turn and 
will be resumed immediately after the turn, and unscheduled, 
unavoidable maintenance of the airgun array that requires the 
interruption of a survey to shut down the array. The survey should be 
resumed immediately after the repairs are completed.
    (2) There may be other occasions when reducing the source level of 
the airgun array is appropriate, but use of the minimum source level to 
avoid the 30-minute visual clearance of the exclusion zone is only for 
events that occur during a survey using the full power array. The 
minimum sound source level is not to be used to allow a later ramp-up 
after dark or in conditions when ramp-up would not otherwise be 
    (v) Field verification. Before conducting the survey, the operator 
must verify the radii of the exclusion/safety zones within real-time 
conditions in the field. Field-verification techniques must use valid 
techniques for determining propagation loss. When moving a seismic-
survey operation into a new area, the operator must verify the new 
radii of the zones by applying a sound-propagation series.
    (3) Limits on take authorization. (i) We will not issue take 
authorization for seismic surveys or exploratory drilling activities 
within a 40-mile radius of Barrow, Wainwright, Point Hope, or

[[Page 30699]]

Point Lay, unless expressly authorized by the community through 
consultation or a Plan of Cooperation as described in paragraph (e) of 
this section.
    (ii) We will limit authorization of offshore exploration activities 
to the open-water season, which will not exceed the period of July 1 to 
November 30.
    (4) Efforts to locate dens. Industry must use Forward Looking 
Infrared (FLIR) imagery, polar bear scent-trained dogs, or both to 
determine presence or absence of maternal polar bear dens in areas of 
    (5) Efforts to minimize disturbance around dens. Industry must 
restrict the timing of the activity to limit disturbance around polar 
bear dens. If known occupied dens are located within an operator's area 
of activity, we will require a 1-mile operational exclusion buffer 
around the den to limit disturbance or require that the operator 
conduct activities after the female bears emerge from their dens. We 
will review these requirements for extenuating circumstances on a case-
by-case basis.
    (6) Mitigation measures for offshore drilling operations. Such 
mitigation measures will include requirements for ice-scouting, surveys 
for walruses and polar bears in the vicinity of active drilling 
operations, marine mammal observers onboard drill-ships and ice 
breakers, and operational restrictions near walrus and polar bear 
    (h) Reporting requirements. Reporting requirements for exploratory 
activities will include:
    (1) Offshore seismic monitoring reports. In order to accommodate 
various vessels' bridge practices and preferences, vessel operators and 
observers may design data reporting forms in whatever format they deem 
convenient and appropriate. At a minimum, the following items must be 
recorded and included in reports to the Service:
    (i) Observer effort report. The operator must prepare an observer 
effort report for each day during which seismic acquisition operations 
are conducted. On a weekly basis, provide the Service an observer 
effort report that includes:
    (A) Vessel name.
    (B) Observers' names and affiliations.
    (C) Survey type (e.g., site, 2D, 3D).
    (D) Minerals Management Service Permit Number (for ``off-lease 
seismic surveys'') or Outer Continental Shelf Lease Number (for ``on-
lease seismic surveys'').
    (E) Date.
    (F) Time and latitude/longitude when daily visual survey began.
    (G) Time and latitude/longitude when daily visual survey ended.
    (H) Average environmental conditions while on visual survey, 
    (1) Wind speed and direction;
    (2) Sea state (glassy, slight, choppy, rough or Beaufort scale);
    (3) Swell (low, medium, high or swell height in meters);
    (4) Overall visibility (poor, moderate, good); and
    (5) Sea ice concentrations (None, Scattered flows <10%, >10%).
    (ii) Survey report. The operator must prepare a survey report for 
each day during which seismic acquisition operations are conducted and 
the airguns are being discharged. On a weekly basis, provide the 
Service a survey report that includes:
    (A) Vessel name.
    (B) Survey type (e.g., site, 2D, 3D).
    (C) Date and time.
    (D) Time pre-ramp-up survey begins.
    (E) Whether walruses or polar bears were seen during pre-ramp-up 
    (F) Time ramp-up begins.
    (G) Whether walruses or polar bears were seen during ramp-up.
    (H) Time airgun array is operating at the desired intensity.
    (I) Radius of 180- and 190-dB exclusion zones.
    (J) Whether walruses or polar bears were seen during the survey.
    (K) If walruses or polar bears were seen, whether any action taken 
(i.e., survey delayed, guns shut down).
    (L) Reason that walruses or polar bears might not have been seen 
(e.g., swell, glare, fog).
    (M) Time airgun array stops firing.
    (2) Walrus observation report. The operator must prepare a walrus 
observation report for each walrus sighting made by marine mammal 
observers and submit these reports to the Service on a weekly basis. 
Information within the observation report will include, but is not 
limited to:
    (A) Vessel/aircraft name.
    (B) Survey type (e.g., 2D, 3D).
    (C) Date and time.
    (D) Water depth (in meters).
    (E) Ice conditions (none, <10% concentration, >10% concentration).
    (F) Watch status (Were you on watch or was this sighting made 
opportunistically by you or someone else?).
    (G) Observer or person who made the sighting.
    (H) Latitude/longitude of vessel.
    (I) Bearing of vessel.
    (J) Bearing and estimated range to animal(s) at first sighting.
    (K) Species sighted.
    (L) Estimated certainty of identification (whether the 
identification is certain, most likely, or a best guess).
    (M) Total number of animals.
    (N) Substrate (hauled out on ice, swimming in water, both).
    (O) Estimated age and sex class of observed animals.
    (P) General description of the animals.
    (Q) Compass direction of the animal's travel.
    (R) Direction of the animal's travel related to the vessel (drawing 
    (S) Behavior (as explicit and detailed as possible; note any 
observed changes in behavior).
    (T) Whether airguns were firing.
    (U) Closest distance (in meters) to animals from center of airgun 
or airgun array (whether firing or not).
    (3) Polar bear observation report. The operator must report, within 
24 hours, all observations of polar bears during any Industry 
operation. Information within the observation report will include, but 
is not limited to:
    (i) Date of observation.
    (ii) Time of observation.
    (iii) Observer name.
    (iv) Contact telephone number and e-mail address.
    (v) Location, with latitude, longitude, and datum.
    (vi) Weather conditions at the time of observation.
    (vii) Visibility.
    (viii) Number of bears: sex and age.
    (ix) Estimated closest point of approach for bears from personnel 
and facilities.
    (x) Possible attractants present.
    (xi) Bear behavior.
    (xii) A description of the encounter.
    (xiii) Duration of the encounter.
    (xiv) Agency contacts.
    (4) Watch logs. Observers may incorporate activities within the 
coast of the geographic region into daily polar bear watch logs.
    (5) Notification of incident report. The operator must report any 
violation of conditions of the Letter of Authorization, incidental 
lethal take, or observations of walruses or polar bears within the 
prescribed zone of ensonification within 24 hours.
    (i) For vessel operations, the notification of incident report must 
    (A) Company conducting the seismic work.
    (B) Vessel name.
    (C) Name of the Marine Mammal Observer (MMO).
    (D) MMO employer.
    (E) Type of vessel (support or seismic).
    (F) Whether airguns were firing, and if so, how many.
    (G) Zone of ensonification used (in meters).

[[Page 30700]]

    (H) Visibility distance (in kilometers).
    (I) General weather.
    (J) Whether ice was present, and if so, the estimated percent of 
ice cover.
    (K) Date and time (Alaska standard time).
    (L) GPS location (decimal degrees in WGS84).
    (M) Distance when first observed from vessel (in meters) and 
    (N) Distance when last observed from vessel (in meters) and 
    (O) Minimum distance during encounter.
    (P) Duration of encounter.
    (Q) Whether the animal responded or reacted to the vessel.
    (R) A description of the encounter.
    (S) Whether shutdown occurred.
    (T) Time elapsed before ramp up (in minutes).
    (U) Number and composition of animals involved.
    (ii) For fixed-winged aircraft and helicopter operations, the 
notification of incident report must include:
    (A) Aircraft identification.
    (B) Aircraft type.
    (C) Name of pilot or observer.
    (D) Altitude and direction of aircraft.
    (E) Number and composition of animals involved.
    (F) Minimum distance during encounter.
    (G) Whether the animal responded or reacted to the aircraft.
    (H) Date and time (Alaska standard time) of incident.
    (I) GPS location (decimal degrees in WGS84).
    (J) A description of the encounter.
    (K) Whether ice was present, and if so, the estimated percent of 
ice cover.
    (L) General weather.
    (M) Visibility distance (in kilometers).
    (6) After-action monitoring report. Holders of a Letter of 
Authorization must submit a report to our Alaska Regional Director 
(Attn: Marine Mammals Management Office) within 90 days after 
completion of activities. Reports must include, at a minimum, the 
following information:
    (i) Dates, times, and types of activity.
    (ii) Dates, times, and locations of activity as related to the 
monitoring activity.
    (iii) Results of the monitoring activities, including an estimated 
level of take.
    (iv) Dates and locations of all Pacific walrus and polar bear 
observations as related to the operation activity when the sighting 
    (v) A weekly summary of the hours and distance traveled during 
observation periods.

Sec.  18.119  What are the information collection requirements?

    (a) The Office of Management and Budget has approved the collection 
of information contained in this subpart and assigned control number 
1018-0070. You must respond to this information collection request to 
obtain a benefit pursuant to section 101(a)(5) of the Marine Mammal 
Protection Act. We will use the information to
    (1) Evaluate the application and determine whether or not to issue 
specific Letters of Authorization and
    (2) Monitor impacts of activities conducted under the Letters of 
    (b) You should direct comments regarding the burden estimate or any 
other aspect of this requirement to the Information Collection 
Clearance Officer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the 
Interior, Mail Stop 222 ARLSQ, 1849 C Street, NW., Washington, DC 

    Dated: May 25, 2007.
Todd Willens,
Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
[FR Doc. E7-10509 Filed 5-31-07; 8:45 am]