50 CFR 18.118 - What are the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements?
(a) Mitigation. Holders of a Letter of Authorization must use methods and conduct activities in a manner that minimizes to the greatest extent practicable adverse impacts on walruses and polar bears, their habitat, and on the availability of these marine mammals for subsistence uses. Dynamic management approaches, such as temporal or spatial limitations in response to the presence of marine mammals in a particular place or time or the occurrence of marine mammals engaged in a particularly sensitive activity (such as feeding), must be used to avoid or minimize interactions with polar bears, walruses, and subsistence users of these resources.
(1) All applicants.
(i) 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 polar bears and Pacific walruses.
(ii) Holders of Letters of Authorization must designate a qualified individual or individuals to observe, record, and report on the effects of their activities on polar bears and Pacific walruses.
(iii) Holders of Letters of Authorization must have an approved polar bear and/or walrus interaction plan on file with the Service and onsite, and polar bear awareness training will be required of certain personnel. Interaction plans must include:
(A) The type of activity and where and when the activity will occur, i.e., a plan of operation;
(B) A food and waste management plan;
(C) Personnel training materials and procedures;
(D) Site at-risk locations and situations;
(E) Walrus and bear observation and reporting procedures; and
(F) Bear and walrus avoidance and encounter procedures.
(iv) All applicants for a Letter of Authorization must contact affected subsistence communities to discuss potential conflicts caused by location, timing, and methods of proposed operations and submit to us a record of communication that documents these discussions. If appropriate, the applicant for a Letter of Authorization must also submit to us a POC that ensures that activities will not interfere with subsistence hunting and that adverse effects on the availability of polar bear or Pacific walruses are minimized (see § 18.114(c)(4)).
(v) If deemed appropriate by the Service, holders of a Letter of Authorization will be required to hire and train polar bear monitors to alert crew of the presence of polar bears and initiate adaptive mitigation responses.
(2) Operating conditions for operational and support vessels.
(i) Operational and support vessels must be staffed with dedicated marine mammal observers to alert crew of the presence of walruses and polar bears and initiate adaptive mitigation responses.
(ii) At all times, vessels must maintain the maximum distance possible from concentrations of walruses or polar bears. Under no circumstances, other than an emergency, should any vessel approach within an 805-m (0.5-mi) radius of walruses or polar bears observed on ice. Under no circumstances, other than an emergency, should any vessel approach within 1,610 m (1 mi) of groups of walruses observed on land or within an 805-m (0.5-mi) radius of polar bears observed on land.
(iii) Vessel operators must take every precaution to avoid harassment of concentrations of feeding walruses when a vessel is operating near these animals. Vessels should reduce speed and maintain a minimum 805-m (0.5-mi) operational exclusion zone around groups of 12 or more walruses encountered in the water. Vessels may not be operated in such a way as to separate members of a group of walruses from other members of the group. When weather conditions require, such as when visibility drops, vessels should adjust speed accordingly to avoid the likelihood of injury to walruses.
(iv) The transit of operational and support vessels through the specified geographic region is not authorized prior to July 1. This operating condition is intended to allow walruses the opportunity to disperse from the confines of the spring lead system and minimize interactions with subsistence walrus hunters. Variances to this operating condition may be issued by the Service on a case-by-case basis, based upon a review of seasonal ice conditions and available information on walrus and polar bear distributions in the area of interest.
(v) All vessels must avoid areas of active or anticipated subsistence hunting for walrus or polar bear as determined through community consultations.
(vi) We may require a monitor on the site of the activity or on board drillships, drill rigs, aircraft, icebreakers, or other support vessels or vehicles to monitor the impacts of Industry's activity on polar bear and Pacific walruses.
(3) Operating conditions for aircraft.
(i) Operators of support aircraft should, at all times, conduct their activities at the maximum distance possible from concentrations of walruses or polar bears.
(ii) Under no circumstances, other than an emergency, should fixed wing aircraft operate at an altitude lower than 457 m (1,500 ft) within 805 m (0.5 mi) of walrus groups observed on ice, or within 1,610 m (1 mi) of walrus groups observed on land. Under no circumstances, other than an emergency, should rotary winged aircraft (helicopters) operate at an altitude lower than 914 m (3,000 ft) within 1,610 m (1 mi) of walrus groups observed on land. Under no circumstances, other than an emergency, should aircraft operate at an altitude lower than 457 m (1,500 ft) within 805 m (0.5 mi) of polar bears observed on ice or land. Helicopters may not hover or circle above such areas or within 805 m (0.5 mile) of such areas. When weather conditions do not allow a 457-m (1,500-ft) flying altitude, such as during severe storms or when cloud cover is low, aircraft may be operated below the required altitudes stipulated above. However, when aircraft are operated at altitudes below 457 m (1,500 ft) because of weather conditions, the operator must avoid areas of known walrus and polar bear concentrations and should take precautions to avoid flying directly over or within 805 m (0.5 mile) of these areas.
(iii) Plan all aircraft routes to minimize any potential conflict with active or anticipated walrus or polar bear hunting activity as determined through community consultations.
(4) Additional mitigation measures for offshore exploration activities.
(i) Offshore exploration activities will be authorized only during the open-water season, defined as the period July 1 to November 30. Variances to the specified open-water season may be issued by the Service on a case-by-case basis, based upon a review of seasonal ice conditions and available information on walrus and polar bear distributions in the area of interest.
(ii) To avoid significant synergistic or cumulative effects from multiple oil and gas exploration activities on foraging or migrating walruses, operators must maintain a minimum spacing of 24 km (15 mi) between all active seismic source vessels and/or drill rigs during exploration activities. This does not include support vessels for these operations. No more than two simultaneous seismic operations and three offshore exploratory drilling operations will be authorized in the Chukchi Sea region at any time.
(iii) No offshore exploration activities will be authorized within a 64-km (40-mi) radius of the communities of Barrow, Wainwright, Point Lay, or Point Hope, unless provided for in a Service-approved, site-specific Plan of Cooperation as described in paragraph (a)(7) of this section.
(iv) A monitoring program acceptable to the Service will be required to estimate the number of walruses and polar bears in a proposed project area.
(v) Hanna Shoal Walrus Use Area (HSWUA). The HSWUA is a high use area for Pacific walruses (Figure 2). Due to the large number of walruses that could be encountered in the HSWUA from July through September, additional mitigation measures may be applied to activities within the HSWUA on a case-by-case basis. These mitigation measures include, but may not be limited to, seasonal restrictions, reduced vessel traffic, or rerouting of vessels. To the maximum extent practicable, aircraft supporting exploration activities shall avoid operating below 1,500 feet ASL over the HSWUA between July 1 and September 30.
(5) Additional mitigation measures for offshore seismic surveys. Any offshore exploration activity expected to include the production of pulsed underwater sounds with sound source levels ≥160 dB re 1 µPa will be required to establish and monitor acoustic exclusion and disturbance zones and implement adaptive mitigation measures as follows:
(i) Monitor zones. Establish and monitor with trained marine mammal observers an acoustically verified exclusion zone for walruses surrounding seismic airgun arrays where the received level will be ≥180 dB re 1 µPa; an acoustically verified exclusion zone for polar bear surrounding seismic airgun arrays where the received level will be ≥190 dB re 1 µPa; and an acoustically verified walrus disturbance zone ahead of and perpendicular to the seismic vessel track where the received level will be ≥160 dB re 1 µPa.
(ii) 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 (in 3).
(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.
(iii) Power down/Shutdown. Immediately power down or shutdown the seismic airgun array and/or other acoustic sources whenever any walruses are sighted approaching close to or within the area delineated by the 180 dB re 1 µPa walrus exclusion zone, or polar bears are sighted approaching close to or within the area delineated by the 190 dB re 1 µPa polar bear exclusion zone. If the power down operation cannot reduce the received sound pressure level to 180 dB re 1 µPa (walrus) or 190 dB re 1 µPa (polar bear), the operator must immediately shutdown the seismic airgun array and/or other acoustic sources.
(iv) Emergency shutdown. If observations are made or credible reports are received that one or more walruses and/or polar bears are within the area of the seismic survey and are in an injured or mortal state, or are indicating acute distress due to seismic noise, the seismic airgun array will be immediately shutdown and the Service contacted. The airgun array will not be restarted until review and approval has been given by the Service. The ramp-up procedures provided in paragraph (a)(5)(ii) of this section must be followed when restarting.
(v) Adaptive response for walrus aggregations. Whenever an aggregation of 12 or more walruses are detected within an acoustically verified 160 dB re 1 µPa disturbance zone ahead of or perpendicular to the seismic vessel track, the holder of this Authorization must:
(A) Immediately power down or shutdown the seismic airgun array and/or other acoustic sources to ensure sound pressure levels at the shortest distance to the aggregation do not exceed 160-dB re 1 µPa; and
(B) Not proceed with powering up the seismic airgun array until it can be established that there are no walrus aggregations within the 160 dB zone based upon ship course, direction, and distance from last sighting. If shutdown was required, the ramp-up procedures provided in paragraph (a)(5)(ii) of this section must be followed when restarting.
(6) Additional mitigation measures for onshore exploration activities.
(i) Polar bear monitors. If deemed appropriate by the Service, holders of a Letter of Authorization will be required to hire and train polar bear monitors to alert crew of the presence of polar bears and initiate adaptive mitigation responses.
(ii) Efforts to minimize disturbance around known polar bear dens. As part of potential terrestrial activities during the winter season, holders of a Letter of Authorization must take efforts to limit disturbance around known polar bear dens.
(A) Efforts to locate polar bear dens. Holders of a Letter of Authorization seeking to carry out onshore exploration activities in known or suspected polar bear denning habitat during the denning season (November to April) must make efforts to locate occupied polar bear dens within and near proposed areas of operation, utilizing appropriate tools, such as forward looking infrared (FLIR) imagery and/or polar bear scent trained dogs. All observed or suspected polar bear dens must be reported to the Service prior to the initiation of exploration activities.
(B) Exclusion zone around known polar bear dens. Operators must observe a 1-mile operational exclusion zone around all known polar bear dens during the denning season (November to April, or until the female and cubs leave the areas). Should previously unknown occupied dens be discovered within 1 mile of activities, work in the immediate area must cease and the Service contacted for guidance. The Service will evaluate these instances on a case-by-case basis to determine the appropriate action. Potential actions may range from cessation or modification of work to conducting additional monitoring, and the holder of the authorization must comply with any additional measures specified.
(7) Mitigation measures for the subsistence use of walruses and polar bears. Holders of Letters of Authorization must conduct their activities in a manner that, to the greatest extent practicable, minimizes adverse impacts on the availability of Pacific walruses and polar bears for subsistence uses.
(i) Community Consultation. Prior to receipt of a Letter of Authorization, applicants must consult with potentially affected communities and appropriate subsistence user organizations to discuss potential conflicts with subsistence hunting of walrus and polar bear caused by the location, timing, and methods of Industry operations and support activities (see § 18.114(c)(4) for details). If community concerns suggest that the Industry 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 (a)(7)(ii) of this section.
(ii) Plan of Cooperation (POC). Where prescribed, holders of Letters of Authorization will be required to develop and implement a Service-approved POC.
(A) The POC must include:
(1) A description of the procedures by which the holder of the Letter of Authorization will work and consult with potentially affected subsistence hunters; and
(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.
(B) The Service will review the POC to ensure that 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 the least practicable adverse impact on the availability of walruses and polar bears for subsistence use.
(b) Monitoring. Depending on the siting, timing, and nature of Industry activities, holders of Letters of Authorization will be required to:
(1) Maintain trained, Service-approved, on-site observers to carry out monitoring programs for polar bears and walruses necessary for initiating adaptive mitigation responses.
(i) Marine Mammal Observers (MMOs) will be required on board all operational and support vessels to alert crew of the presence of walruses and polar bears and initiate adaptive mitigation responses identified in paragraph (a) of this section, and to carry out specified monitoring activities identified in the marine mammal monitoring and mitigation plan (see paragraph (b)(2) of this section) necessary to evaluate the impact of authorized activities on walruses, polar bears, and the subsistence use of these subsistence resources. The MMOs must have completed a marine mammal observer training course approved by the Service.
(ii) Polar bear monitors. Polar bear monitors will be required under the monitoring 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 concerning proximate bear activity to Industry facilities.
(2) Develop and implement a site-specific, Service-approved marine mammal monitoring and mitigation plan to monitor and evaluate the effects of authorized activities on polar bears, walruses, and the subsistence use of these resources.
(i) The marine mammal monitoring and mitigation plan 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 (i.e., document immediate behavioral responses as well as longer term, when requested), and evaluate the effectiveness of prescribed mitigation measures.
(ii) Applicants must fund an independent peer review of proposed monitoring plans and draft reports of monitoring results after consultation with the Service. This peer review will consist of independent reviewers who have knowledge and experience in statistics, marine mammal behavior, and the type and extent of Industry operations. The applicant will provide the results of these peer reviews to the Service for consideration in final approval of monitoring plans and final reports. The Service will distribute copies of monitoring reports to appropriate resource management agencies and co-management organizations.
(3) Cooperate with the Service and other designated Federal, State, and local agencies to monitor the impacts of oil and gas exploration activities in the Chukchi Sea on walruses or polar bears. Where insufficient information exists to evaluate the potential effects of Industry activities on walruses, polar bears, and the subsistence use of these resources, holders of Letters of Authorization may be requested to participate in monitoring and/or research efforts in order to help the Service address these information needs and ensure the least practicable impact to these resources. These monitoring and research efforts will employ rigorous study designs and sampling protocols in order to provide useful information. As an example, operators could test new technologies during their activities that will be beneficial in minimizing disturbance to animals. Information gaps and needs in the Chukchi Sea include, but are not limited to:
(i) Distribution, abundance, movements, and habitat use patterns of walruses and polar bears in offshore environments;
(ii) Patterns of subsistence hunting activities by the Native Villages of Kivalina, Point Hope, Point Lay, Wainwright, and Barrow for walruses and polar bears;
(iii) Immediate and longer term (when possible) behavioral and other responses of walruses and polar bears to seismic airguns, drilling operations, vessel traffic, and fixed wing aircraft and helicopters;
(iv) Contaminant levels in walruses, polar bears, and their prey;
(v) Cumulative effects of multiple simultaneous operations on walruses and polar bears; and
(vi) Oil spill risk assessment for the marine and shoreline environment of walruses, polar bears, their prey, and important habitat areas (e.g., coastal haulouts and den sites).
(c) Reporting requirements. Holders of Letters of Authorization must report the results of specified monitoring activities to the Service's Alaska Regional Director (see 50 CFR 2.2 for address).
(1) In-season monitoring reports -
(i) Activity progress reports. Operators must keep the Service informed on the progress of authorized activities by:
(A) Notifying the Service at least 48 hours prior to the onset of activities;
(B) Providing weekly progress reports of authorized activities noting any significant changes in operating state and or location; and
(C) Notifying the Service within 48 hours of ending activity.
(ii) Walrus observation reports. The operator must report, on a weekly basis, all observations of walruses during any Industry operation. Information within the observation report will include, but is not limited to:
(A) Date, time, and location of each walrus sighting;
(B) Number, sex, and age of walruses (if determinable);
(C) Observer name, company name, vessel name or aircraft number, LOA number, and contact information;
(D) Weather, visibility, and ice conditions at the time of observation;
(E) Estimated distance from the animal or group when initially sighted, at closest approach, and end of the encounter;
(F) Industry activity at time of sighting and throughout the encounter. If a seismic survey, record the estimated radius of the zone of ensonification;
(G) Behavior of animals at initial sighting, any change in behavior during the observation period, and distance from the observers associated with those behavioral changes;
(H) Detailed description of the encounter;
(I) Duration of the encounter;
(J) Duration of any behavioral response (e.g., time and distance of a flight response) and;
(K) Actions taken.
(iii) Polar bear observation reports. 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:
(A) Date, time, and location of observation;
(B) Number, sex, and age of bears (if determinable);
(C) Observer name, company name, vessel name, LOA number, and contact information;
(D) Weather, visibility, and ice conditions at the time of observation;
(E) Estimated closest point of approach for bears from personnel and/or vessel/facilities;
(F) Industry activity at time of sighting, and possible attractants present;
(G) Behavior of animals at initial sighting and after contact;
(H) Description of the encounter;
(I) Duration of the encounter; and
(J) Actions taken.
(iv) Notification of incident report. Reports should include all information specified under the species observation report, as well as a full written description of the encounter and actions taken by the operator. The operator must report to the Service within 24 hours:
(A) Any incidental lethal take or injury of a polar bear or walrus; and
(B) Observations of walruses or polar bears within prescribed mitigation monitoring zones.
(2) After-action monitoring reports. The results of monitoring efforts identified in the marine mammal monitoring and mitigation plan must be submitted to the Service for review within 90 days of completing the year's activities. Results must include, but are not limited to, the following information:
(i) A summary of monitoring effort including: Total hours, total distances, and distribution through study period of each vessel and aircraft;
(ii) Analysis of factors affecting the visibility and detectability of walruses and polar bears by specified monitoring;
(iii) Analysis of the distribution, abundance, and behavior of walrus and polar bear sightings in relation to date, location, ice conditions, and operational state;
(iv) Estimates of take based on the number of animals encountered/kilometer of vessel and aircraft operations by behavioral response (no response, moved away, dove, etc.), and animals encountered per day by behavioral response for stationary drilling operations; and
(v) Raw data in electronic format (i.e., Excel spreadsheet) as specified by the Service in consultation with Industry representatives.