NTL on Rice’s Whale Circumvents Law and Ignores Science, Will Have Far Reaching Impacts on Gulf of Mexico

For Immediate Release: Monday, August 21, 2023
NOIA Contact: jwilliams@nullnoia.org

NTL on Rice’s Whale Circumvents Law and Ignores Science, Will Have Far Reaching Impacts on Gulf of Mexico

Washington, D.C. – National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) President Erik Milito issued the following statement after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a Notice to Lessees (NTL) with recommended restrictions on ongoing industry activities within the expanded Rice's Whale habitat area. BOEM delayed issuance of the NTL from last Friday’s deadline.

“This decision by the Biden Administration does an end-around legal requirements and the public process, imposing unwarranted restrictions on U.S. energy production at a time of continued inflation with prices rising at the pump for consumers. The NTL, coupled with the broader Stipulated Stay Agreement, poses a barrier to America's energy production capabilities within a region that not only sustains hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs but also yields some of the world's least carbon-intensive barrels.

“Despite lacking ample scientific evidence to support such extensive bans on operations, the agreement targets the domestic offshore oil and gas industry. The Stipulated Stay agreement ignores the best science, contravenes Congress' explicit directives in enacting the Inflation Reduction Act, and threatens America's energy independence.

“Moreover, the federal government is moving forward to expand these protections to other ocean users and industries through the proposed designation of critical habitat for the Rice’s Whale that will establish a restricted pathway through the entirety of the Gulf of Mexico, imposing disruptions to the full Gulf Coast economy – home to numerous strategic national ports – and reverberating throughout the whole U.S. economy.

“Among other things, making areas off-limits, imposing speed restrictions, and limiting transit at night and times of low visibility will impact the ability of the offshore energy industry to explore, construct, and develop energy projects in the Gulf of Mexico. The restrictions imposed by the lease stipulations and the NTL jeopardizes the vast concert of vessels working in the Gulf of Mexico and will very likely lead to an increase in the number of vessels at sea at a given time, increasing traffic, risk, and overall emissions. The proposed restrictions would potentially eliminate or hamper safely established and efficient activities in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Rice’s whale is currently afforded protections under both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Expanding the Rice’s whale habitat to include areas where there is only a negligible or no presence at all will dilute conservation resources that should be going towards protecting actual habitat areas. “Sue and settle” or “regulation by litigation” fails to respect both environmental preservation and the economic vitality that the energy sector supports.”

NOIA Letter to Interior on the NTL
Earlier this afternoon, NOIA President Erik Milito and the Chair of the NOIA Health, Safety, Security, & Environment (HSSE) Committee and Beacon Chief Operating Officer Joe Leimkuhler sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, making clear for the record that there likely will be adverse consequences if the settlement agreement is implemented, including possible increased safety risks and increased emissions. A key point of the letter is that Interior should carefully consider the potential consequences through a public process before taking this type of action.

About the Notice to Lessees
The Notice to Lessees (NTL) recommends several restrictions on vessels while they are in the Expanded Rice’s Whale Area, including:

  1. Having trained visual observers to monitor the vessel strike avoidance zone to watch for whales. Such observers may be either third-party observers or crew members but crew members responsible for these duties should be provided with sufficient training to distinguish aquatic protected species to broad taxonomic groups.
  2. 10-knot Vessel Speed Restrictions for all vessels, regardless of size. If the vessel does not require automatic identification system (AIS), it is strongly encouraged that the operator document and retain records of the transit, including trackline (e.g., time and speed) data and visual marine mammal sightings.
  3. Maintain a minimum separation distance of 500 meters from Rice's whales. If a whale is observed but cannot be confirmed as a species other than a Rice’s whale, the vessel operator should assume that the whale is a Rice’s whale and take appropriate action.
  4. Use of AIS for vessels 65 feet or greater; and
  5. To the maximum extent practicable, avoid transit through the Expanded Rice’s Whale Area after dusk and before dawn, and “during other times of low visibility.”

It is unclear how the NTL, as a guidance document, will be enforced. The NTL also directs companies to include these mitigation manners in future plans for offshore operations in the region.

About Lease Sale 261
As part of the Stipulated Stay agreement, BOEM will also remove the "Rice's Whale Expanded Area" from the upcoming Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale 261, scheduled for September 27, 2023, and future lease sales during the reinitiated consultation. This expanded habitat area traverses active regions along the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico. Altogether, about 11 million acres of promising potential lease blocks will be taken off the table.

BOEM will introduce stipulations to Lease Sale 261 intended to limit activities within an extensive region of the Gulf of Mexico. These mitigation measures include:

  • 10-knot Vessel Speed Restrictions
  • Limitations on Night Travel
  • Vessel Strike Avoidance Protocols
  • Multi-Year Record Keeping Requirements
  • Mandatory Minimum Separation Distances from Rice's Whales

Download BOEM Notice to Lessees

Download NOIA Letter to Secretary Haaland Here

Download Stipulated Stay Agreement

Download NOIA One Pager on the Stipulated Stay Agreement Here

National Ocean Industries Association
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Washington, DC 20005

Phone: 202.347.6900 | Email: media@nullnoia.org