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Furthermore, since the Call for Information, the Sale 96 area has been reduced by 71 percent through the deferral of submarine transit lanes as well as all areas with no industry interest.
These decisions demonstrate our efforts to focus on promising acreage
Comment: "At this time it is not clear to us how large an area of the
Response: We have enclosed a copy of the press release which was originally mailed to EPA Region I on June 12, 1987. The press release reads la part: "The Interior Departmeat's Minerals Management Service (MMS) has identified approximately 5.5 million acres la federal waters offshore the U.S. North Atlantic coast to study in its environmental lapact statement (EIS) for proposed oil and Gas Lease Sale 96, which is tentatively scheduled for February 1989." A map showing the blocks iacluded in the Area Identification, appears as page 3 of the press release.
Comment: "Because the areas directly exposed to drilllag are expected to be small relative to the entire sale area, the impacts are "averaged out to be small ...
because certain impacts • • · are expected to be localized, they are assumed to be minor."
Response: As we noted in our response to a similar comment raised at the 5-Year Program stage, we are in general agreement with the comment that "averaging" impacts over species or over activities can have the effect of understating impacts. However, as evidenced by the structure of the analyses in an EIS, the intent of the analyses 1s to support conclusions regarding the reasonably expected level of impact to resources at risk on both a region-wide or resource-wide level as well as a local or species-specific level.
The analyses of potential impacts in EIS's are structured in the following
(1) The analyses include a discussion of poteatial impacts, including possible severe impacts, to which the resources at risk are susceptible. (2) The analyses include a discussion of the anticipated interaction of impact produciag factors (assumed OCS exploration and development activities and possible accidental events such as oil spills and blowouts) with resources at risk, leading to (3) a conclusion regarding the expected level of impact.
Where appropriate, the analyses and conclusions differentiate between expected local or regional impacts and between expected resource category-wide impacts or species-specific impacts.
For example, an analysis in an EIS may point out that the expected
analysis may show that the expected impacts to fish resources as a whole in a sale area are low but the impacts on one particular species are expected to be moderate. We do not feel that this is "averaging" or understating impacts. In other words, the reduction of plankton in the immediate vicinity of an oil spill does not necessarily translate into a high, or even moderate, impact to plankton populations in a 5 million acre sale area. Similarly, a local reduction in the numbers of a particular year class of yellowtail flounder does not translate into a high impact on fish resources as a whole 1f other fish (haddock, cod, etc.) remain unaffected. The distinction between expected local or species-specific impacts and regional or resource-wide impacts can and should be made when the informacion and analysis permit. As mentioned above, EIS analyses contain both a discussion of possible levels of impacts, including severe impacts, to which a resource is susceptible, as well as a discussion of the anticipated interaction of che resource at risk with impact-producing factors. This is done in order to estimate the likely level of impact. Simply because a species may be sensitive to a certain pollutant or activity does not mean the expected impact would be high. An analyst, in reaching a conclusion regarding the reasonably expected level of impact on a resouce or species, must consider, in addition to sensitivity, the magnitude and location of assumed OCS activities in a sale area over a 30-35 year period, the probability of accidental events such as oil spills and blowouts occurring during this period, and make a judgment as to the 11kely effects on sensitive resources. Before actual exploracion drilling occurs, the precise magnitude and location of Ocs activities or potential accidents cannot be known. However, reasonable projections can and should be made regarding likely interaction of impact-producing factors and resources at risk. Should these projections of the likelihood of impact occurrence not be made, the analyses would contain little more than an identification of sensitivities of resources to various kinds of disturbance.
For these reasons, a reader may note that a particular impact analysis in an EIS may indicate that the potential impact to a species is high, but the conclusion states that the expected impact is low. This is not the result of impact "averaging" or combining magnitude and probability (high impact level times very low probability equals low impact). Rather it is the result of the judgment that, although a high impact could occur, a low level of impact is nost 11kely when all elements of the proposal and impact causing factors are considered by the analyst.
Comment: . past EIS's reflect a predisposition to dismiss environmental concerns using what we perceive to be three lines of faulty reasoning because past drilling on Georges Bank (eight exploratory drill rigs) appareatly resulted in no significant, long lasting adverse effects, it is assumed that the same will be true in the future ...
Response: The statement that past drilling on Georges Bank resulted in no significant effect is true. However, the allegation that we make assumptions based solely on that piece of information is false. Some of the information factored into each analysis is listed below:
25 site-specific, North Atlantic Environmental
The list of references used in the preparation of the last North Atlantic EIS was 42 pages long (Final EIS/Sale 82, prepared in 1983, pp. 577-619). Since preparation of the Sale 82 Final Eis, two additional collections of relevant information have been compiled. The potential toxicity of drilling discharges was investigate. by the National Research Council, as reported in its 1983 report, Drilling Discharges in the Marine Environment. The report concluded that: the di scharge of drilling fluids into the open oceans by oil and gas operations on the ocs does not pose a significant threat to marine life; the major components of most drilling fluids are not toxic after initial dilution; research on other discharges containing the same metals found in drilling mud suggests that the netals found in drilling mud discharges are not concentrated in the food chain; and restrictions on dilutions or rates of discharges are not justified in most ocs areas because water column exposures are short term and are of rapidly diminishing concentrations.
The second such collection is based on a 1-year study of Georges Bank and is about to be published. The study by the woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has resulted in a 632-page book. The editor in chief of Georges Bank, Richard Backus, a biologist at the institution, said that "hard evidence that careful development hurts the fisheries is non-existent. It's mostly a lot of supposition."
UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
AUG 3. 1987
August 28, 1987
ATLANTIC OCS REGION
Bruce G. Weetman
Dear Mr. Weetman: Thank you for your July 30, 1987 letter concerning our July 3, 1987 scoping letter on the proposed Outer Continental shelf (OCS) Lease Sale 96. I have carefully reviewed your letter and am surprised that our comments resulted in such a negative reaction. I do not agree with your interpretation of our comments or of EPA's responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Section 309 of the Clean Air Act, and the Memorandum of Understanding between our two agencies. Two points in your letter are of particular concern to me. One is your view that it is inappropriate for another federal agency such as EPA to hold a position different from MMS's with respect to North Atlantic ocs leasing once the Department of Interior (DOI) has approved the Five Year Plan. The other is that MMS believes EPA should not reiterate such a position as part of the scoping process. Under NEPA and Section 309 of the Clean Air Act, EPA has a duty to review and comment on the environmental impact of Federal actions from the standpoint of our areas of jurisdiction and expertise. In accordance with those responsibilities, we have reviewed and commented on all EISs for North Atlantic lease sales and Five Year Plans. The position briefly set forth in our July 3 letter is simply a reiteration of the position taken by this agency in our review of the Five Year Plan Eis. The reason for stating that position was to fulfill our obligations under the scoping process. It is EPA's policy to identify during the scoping process key matters of concern, reasonable alternatives to the proposed action that might avoid potential adverse impacts, and the alternative we believe to be environmentally preferrable. In the case of our Lease Sale 96 scoping letter, we sought to convey as clearly as possible our recommendations on how alternatives, size of the lease area, and conclusions about impacts should be treated in this EIS so as to resolve rather than repeat the problems of past OCS EISS. Concerns raised in past EiSs remain
legitimate in the current context if they have not yet been adequately addressed. To ignore such concerns, as your letter implies we should, would be contrary to ceQ's regulations and EPA policy. It also would suggest that those concerns are no longer relevant, when in fact we believe they are central to the NEPA process that needs to be carried out for Lease Sale 96. EPA's statutory duties under NEPA and Section 309 of the Clean Air Act are not discretionary and are not somehow abrogated by virtue of a DOI-approved Five Year Plan or MOU, as your letter implies. The ocs Lands Act is explicit in stating that its provisions do not affect the authority provided by law to EPA for the protection of the environment. Further, the MOU contains an express recognition of EPA's independent statutory responsibilities. I would also like to address your statement about the 'strong parallelism" between EPA comments and those MMS has received from outside groups." If by your comment you mean that EPA also holds many of the opinions expressed by New England states and others about the risks posed by oil drilling in the North Atlantic, you are correct. Many parties, including EPA, have expressed those concerns. The fact that there is a common theme among concerns expressed by this federal agency and non-federal entities is in no way improper or inappropriate, as your letter seems to imply; if anything, it indicates that the concerns deserve serious attention. In addition, you misread our reference to "deletions recommended by states' to be a blanket endorsement of presently unknown requests for further deferrals. Our letter (page 2, paragraph 2) clearly requests that the EIS thoroughly examine the full range of alternatives, including deletions recommended by states. We did not endorse or ask MMS to endorse the deletions at this time, but rather requested that the EIS examine them as alternatives. In our opinion, such a request is entirely appropriate and consistent with the deference traditionally accorded to state governments in the NEPA process. It is hardly evidence of a "lack of objectivity and should not have evoked an accusation that we *support conflicting interests, without documentation." You have made several other points in your letter that again reflect a misunderstanding of our comments or warrant a response, as follows. --EPA's letter did not dispute or criticize MMS's statistical analysis of the probability of oil spills in the North Atlantic. We simply reiterated our judgement about the acceptability of the risk.