Obama Administration Mandates Oil Firms Hire Sea Turtle Observers

By Elizabeth Harrington | October 31, 2012 | 3:44pm EDT

Sea lions. (AP)

(CNSNews.com)- The Department of Interior (DOI) is requiring private oil companies to hire marine mammal and sea turtle monitors if the companies are granted a lease to drill offshore. A marine mammal observer’s job is to watch for whales, dolphins, and similar sea creatures and to advise on minimizing the underwater noise created by offshore drilling, which can affect the sea mammals.

The DOI announced in a press release last week that it will open up 20 million acres in the Western Gulf of Mexico for an oil and gas lease sale to be held Nov. 28, which is part of the administration’s “Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2012–2017 (Five Year Program).”

The terms of the sale, which were finalized by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), include several environmental safeguards.

“These terms include measures to protect the environment, such as stipulations requiring that operators protect biologically sensitive features and provide trained observers to monitor marine mammals and sea turtles to ensure compliance and restrict operations when conditions warrant,” the release said.

“Every time we do a sale we do an environmental analysis and in that we list the terms to protect the environment,” said John Filostrat, of the BOEM Public Affairs Office.  “One of those terms is requiring operators to observe marine mammals when they’re conducting operations.

“That’s pretty standard,” he said.

Filostrat said companies that secure leases are responsible for hiring individuals to monitor the mammals, and they do not have to undergo any special federal training.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Outer Continental Shelf, released by BOEM in July 2012, however, stipulates what oil companies must do in that region.

It states, among other things, that the lessee and its operators must: “observe for marine mammals and sea turtles while on vessels, reduce vessel speed to 10 knots or less when assemblages of cetaceans are observed, and maintain a distance of 90 meters or greater from whales, and a distance of 45 meters or greater from small cetaceans and sea turtles.”

Companies must also “identify important habitats,” “immediately report all sightings and locations of injured or dead protected species,” and must notify BOEM within 24 hours if an injury or death was “caused by a collision with the lessee’s vessel.”

The project is being billed as part of President Barack Obama’s “all-of-the-above energy strategy.”

“The President’s commitment to a comprehensive, all-of-the-above energy strategy is creating jobs here at home while reducing our dependence on foreign oil,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “Exploration and development of our Western Gulf’s vital energy resources will continue to help power our nation and drive our economy.”

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