On December 7, 2018, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), publishedin the Federal Register five “incidental harassment authorizations” (IHAs) allowing multiple companies to engage in seismic testing off the Atlantic coast of the United States. This seismic testing will be conducted in support of oil exploration in the Atlantic Ocean, by companies that provide services to the oil and gas industry. The IHAs conclude that seismic testing is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence or recovery of multiple species of whales and sea turtles off the Atlantic coast.
Although some of the applications date back to 2014-15, and were posted for public review at that time, three of the companies have since submitted revised applications, and two companies have submitted new applications, since that public review period. Without providing further opportunity for public comment, NMFS proposed issuing IHAs to these companies on June 6, 2017. Since the proposed IHAs were published, one of the companies modified its application again. Nonetheless, NMFS is issuing the proposed IHAs largely unmodified, reasoning that “the determinations made in regard to [that company’s] previously proposed specified activity remain appropriate and valid.”
The IHAs dovetail with the Trump Administration’s proposal to allow oil and gas leases in Atlantic waters, which are opposed by the governors of almost every U.S. state on the Atlantic coast. At least nine states have already intervened to join a lawsuit filed immediately against NMFS for issuing the IHAs.