A troubling permitting lapse
BY NICK SNOW- WASHINGTON EDITOR| OIL & GAS JOURNAL | January 15, 2018
Both the National Marine Fisheries Service and US Fish & Wildlife Service need to better explain how they conduct incidental harassment authorization reviews for offshore oil and gas geologic and geophysical surveys to meet the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s 120-day deadline, the Government Accountability Office said in a report issued on Jan. 4.
The agencies review applications for the permits that cover accidental marine mammal and fish deaths resulting from normal offshore business operations. GAO investigators found that NMFS, which is part of the US Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, could not provide accurate dates on when the agency deems an application adequate and complete, while FWS, a US Department of the Interior agency like BOEM, does not even record the information.
“Federal internal control standards call for agencies to use quality information. Without guidance on how to accurately record review dates, agencies and applicants will continue to have uncertainty around review time frames,” the report said.
Problems with processing incidental harassment permit applications at NMFS became apparent in 2016-17 when the agency inexplicably delayed decisions on six offshore G&G contractors’ filings for permits on the Mid-Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf before abruptly rejecting them toward the end of President Barack Obama’s second term.
NMFS subsequently proposed issuing IHAs to five offshore G&G contractors the following June as the Trump administration assumed power. The applications, which the agency is supposed to process in 120 days, have languished there for 892 days, said Nikki Martin, president of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors in Houston, on Jan. 4. “Seismic research is vital to unlock-ng energy potential off our coasts, and federal red tape is standing in the way,” said US House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who asked GAO to conduct its investigation in March 2016. “GAO’s report highlights the bureaucratic dysfunction, lack of transparency, and blatant abuses of discretion that has stalled greater exploration and development.”
‘Flawed, arbitrary, dysfunctional’
“Today’s GAO report reveals what the offshore energy industry has been rightfully saying all along: The permitting process for seismic research is flawed, arbitrary, and dysfunctional,” said National Ocean Industries Association Pres. Randall B. Luthi.
“Bureaucratic and intentional foot-dragging has prevented a timely and objective appraisal of modern offshore seismic permits, putting the exploration and development of affordable and reliable energy that Americans rely on at risk,” Luthi warned.
Martin, meanwhile, noted, “We urge NMFS to implement guidance to aid analysts and applicants to track when applications are adequate and complete, acknowledge [its] failure to meet existing statutory timelines, and issue decisions on the five pending Atlantic seismic I HA applications without further delay.”