NAS and BOEM hold Second Meeting to Collaborate on Science and Ocean Energy Management
In mid-April, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Bureau Ocean Management (BOEM) held the second meeting of its newly formed committee on Offshore Science and Assessment. The purpose of the meeting was to continue to explore opportunities for the committee to provide scientific expertise that would help BOEM in its decision making processes.
The first area where BOEM believes the committee can contribute would be in offering peer review to the agency’s environmental studies program (ESP). The purpose of BOEM’s ESP is to offer in-depth scientific research to inform policy decisions related to energy development on the outercontinental shelf. This includes developing research to “predict, assess, and manage” impacts from offshore energy development to human, marine and coastal areas. These studies are partially funded through cooperative agreements with states, universities, and federal agencies. Examples of ongoing studies include: understanding Arctic resources in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, impacts of the Deep Horizon spill, and studies in the Pacific and Atlantic to assess the environment for renewable energy development. Rodney Clark, Director of BOEM’s ESP program suggested that these studies could utilize the expertise of a few members on various projects, but there would be no need for the committee to come to a peer reviewed consensus opinion on aspects of various studies. In addition, the committee could also be helpful in identifying new topics for studies. These could include air quality and the impacts of development on marine mammals.
The second topic that BOEM discussed in detail with the committee was BOEM’s geophysical and geological (G&G) permitting process for the Gulf of Mexico. BOEM said that they would be particularly interested in assessing the impact of marine sounds on mammals, particularly the use of airguns to gather seismic data. According to BOEM, they currently have limited in-house scientific expertise in this area, but the agency has held a series of workshops and conducted environmental studies on airguns and their impact on marine mammals. In addition, BOEM has collaborated with other agencies and industry. Some of the future topics that they would like to examine in this area include: fish and invertebrates, noise propagation, mitigation effectiveness, and changes in mammal behavior.
BOEM officials also discussed regulatory obligations, including the increased scrutiny over information that they are required to obtain illustrating the impacts of seismic surveys on marine life. The major reason for this increased scrutiny is due to a June, 2013 settlement agreement between DOI and the National Resources Defense Council. The settlement agreement requires BOEM to make non-proprietary information regarding deep penetration seismic survey permits publically available. The agreement has also strongly encouraged BOEM, BSEE, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (the other agencies engaged in the environmental impact statements process for G&G permits) to be very sensitive to potential situations that would disturb marine life.
The second day of the conference featured an overview of studies that NAS’s Ocean Studies Board is in the process of developing. The role of the Ocean Studies Board is to explore the science and policy necessary to manage and protect coastal marine environments and resources (the NAS\BOEM committee is comprised of scientists from the Ocean Studies and the Earth Sciences and Resources Boards). The two study topics include oil in the sea and the impact of oil dispersants. These studies would provide an update to similar studies done over the past 15 years, and, in some cases, would also update research done immediately after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.