What is the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Process?
Scoping is the process used to determine the appropriate contents of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Public participation is an integral part of scoping. The first scoping step is to announce to the public, by a Federal Register notice and press releases, that an EIS will be prepared and to ask for comments about what should be included. We may also hold one or more public meetings in communities that might be affected if leasing, exploration, or development were to occur. The purpose of soliciting input is to identify relevant issues, alternatives, mitigation measures, and analytical tools so that they can be incorporated into the EIS.
Getting input from as many affected and interested parties as possible is an important part of preparing an EIS. These usually include:
- Citizens who live, work, or play in the area where OCS-related activity may occur.
- Public interest groups and Native communities that have concerns about possible impacts to environmental, social, or economic resources.
- Federal, State, and local government agencies that have responsibilities for managing public resources or services.
- Oil industry and oil industry support businesses that might conduct oil and gas development activities.
- Scientists and other technical experts with knowledge of the area's natural resources and the possible impacts of oil and gas development.
An important objective of scoping is to identify specific elements of the environment that might be affected if the proposal is carried out. If we determine that there might be significant impacts associated with a concern that is raised during scoping, it is analyzed in detail in the EIS. For OCS activities, environmental concerns that commonly arise include:
- Ecological concerns such as the possible impacts of oil and gas development on marine mammals, birds, fish and shellfish, and the natural habitats that support these resources.
- Sociological concerns such as development-related changes in population or demands for public transportation, education, or health care services. Other social factors involved may include possible changes in the cultural, religious, or recreational traditions of affected communities.
- Economic concerns often center on marine-related employment, like commercial fishing and tourism.
Based on the information received during the scoping effort and other information, such as the location of sensitive natural resources, estimates of oil and gas resources, or projected oil and gas activity, we identify alternatives to the proposal that might reduce possible impacts. In addition, any reasonable measures suggested to mitigate possible impacts are considered for analysis in the EIS.
After the alternatives to the proposal are determined, we develop scenarios for the proposal and each alternative. Those are the bases for the analyses of possible impacts. The scenarios for the 5-year program and lease sales are largely hypothetical because it is not known at the time what operations will actually take place. The scenarios for these EISs include information about:
- Numbers of wells that might be drilled and the discharges that might result from drilling the wells.
- Numbers of production platforms that might be installed and the types and amounts of activity needed to support platform operations.
- Methods that might be used to transport the oil and gas that are produced.
- Oil spills.
The EIS scenarios for proposed development projects are more site-specific than for proposed lease sales and are based on the actual plan submitted by a company for a particular development project.
The EIS analyzes the particular environmental concerns that were identified. A separate analysis is prepared for the proposal and each alternative. The objective of the analysis is to estimate the nature, severity, and duration of impacts that might occur and to compare the impacts of the proposal and alternatives. Numerous technical aids are used in making the assessment, including ecological and socioeconomic studies sponsored by BOEM and others, and computer models that simulate the movements of accidental oil spills or air emissions from operations.
Draft EIS and Public Review
The impact analysis is first documented in a draft EIS. When the Associate Director for Offshore Energy and Minerals Management, or a higher authority, approves an EIS, BOEM headquarters staff review a pre-publication version of the draft. If approval authority for the EIS is above the BOEM Director, the Department's Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance and the Solicitor's Office also review the draft. The purpose of the review is to ensure the technical accuracy of all aspects of the document.
The draft EIS is made available to the public for a minimum of 45 days for review and comment. The availability of the draft EIS is announced in a Federal Register notice and in press releases. Copies of the document are made available to the public through our web pages, individual mailings, and repositories such as public libraries. The public may either comment to us in writing or by making oral comments at one of the public hearings that we hold in the areas most likely to be affected.
The principal concern in developing the final EIS is to address public comments on the draft EIS in a responsive and responsible fashion. The final EIS includes a summary of all comments and our responses. The office preparing the EIS is responsible for drafting responses. For appropriate EISs, the Department and BOEM headquarters review them for technical accuracy and adherence to policy.
After the comments on the draft EIS are reviewed, we revise the document to correct technical errors and add any relevant new information that became available since the draft EIS was published. On occasion, a new alternative or mitigation measure will be added and evaluated. A summary of the comments received on the draft EIS and our responses to those comments are also put into the document. Normally, a final EIS is made available to the public within 6 months after the comment period on the draft EIS ends. Once again, the availability of the final EIS is announced in a Federal Register notice and press releases.