Gulf of Mexico Geological and Geophysical (G&G) Activities Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)

Map showing area of interest in gulf of mexico g&g

Map above is available for PDF download
(11 x 14) and (8.5 x 11).

This Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was developed to evaluate the potential significant environmental impacts of multiple geological and geophysical (G&G) activities within Federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico’s (GOM) Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and adjacent state waters.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) as cooperating agencies, prepared a Programmatic EIS pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). BOEM and NMFS intend for this Programmatic EIS to provide the necessary documentation and analyses to support informed decisions regarding future Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) Permit and Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) Authorization actions related to G&G activities on the OCS. In addition, the preparation of this Programmatic EIS will help to ensure compliance with other applicable laws and statutes such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA), Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). 

While state waters are not within the jurisdiction and authority of BOEM, NMFS as the Co-Lead for this Programmatic EIS has jurisdiction and permitting authority in Federal and state waters. The Area of Interest (AOI) encompasses adjacent state waters for three reasons:

  1. NMFS requires an assessment of potential impacts to resources under its jurisdiction;
  2. G&G activities under all three program areas (oil and gas, renewable energy, and marine minerals) could include surveys that cross between Federal and state waters; and
  3. the potential adverse impacts associated with G&G activities introduced into the environment during G&G surveys could affect resources in state waters.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) has jurisdiction over such activities in state and Federal waters under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act (RHA) and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The COE has established a Nationwide Permit (NWP) (NWP 6 Survey Activities) to regulate G&G activities in state waters. Depending on location, state issued permits may be required.

The proposed action is for BOEM to continue the issuance of permits and/or authorizations under its authority for G&G activities in the U.S. portion of the GOM. The proposed action specifically includes the following:

  1. Continuance of BOEM’s permitting process and mandates for G&G operations in the GOM subject to regulatory authority as described in 30 CFR 551, 580 and 585, Subsection 8(k) of OCSLA and Subsection 8(p) of OCSLA, as set forth in Section 388(a) of the Energy Policy Act of 2005;
  2. Continuance of G&G activities conducted under a lease as described in 30 CFR 550.

In support of oil and gas, renewable energy, and marine minerals resource programs in Federal and state waters, this Programmatic EIS focused on assessing the environmental impacts of geological surveys (bottom sampling and test drilling), geophysical surveys (deep penetration, high resolution, electromagnetic, deep stratigraphic, and remote sensing), and other G&G exploration- and production-related activities.

BOEM manages the exploration and development of the Nation’s offshore resources in Federal waters. BOEM’s statutory responsibility for issuing G&G permits in Federal waters is defined in the Section 11 of OCSLA and supporting regulations. BOEM needs this information to fulfill its statutory responsibilities to ensure safe operations, to support environmental impact analyses, to protect benthic resources, to meet listed species consultation requirements, to ensure fair market value for leases, to make royalty relief determinations, to conserve oil and gas resources, and to perform other statutory responsibilities. BOEM’s regulations at 30 CFR 550, 551, 580, 585, Subsection 8(k) and Subsection 8(p) of OCSLA, and in Section 388 (a) of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, in part, state that G&G activities may not:

  • interfere with or endanger operations under any lease or right-of-way or permit issued;
  • cause harm or damage to aquatic life, property, or to the marine, coastal, or human environments;
  • cause harm or damage to any mineral resource (in areas leased or not leased);
  • cause pollution;
  • create hazardous or unsafe conditions;
  • unreasonably interfere with or harm other uses of the area; or
  • disturb archaeological resources.

The NMFS is responsible for the stewardship of the Nation’s living marine resources and their habitat. The NMFS statutory responsibilities under the MMPA ensures that the taking (“to harass, hunt, capture, kill or collect, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, kill or collect”) of marine mammals without a permit or exemption is prohibited. The NMFS is responsible for issuing authorizations for the taking (by harassment) of marine mammals incidental to the permittees conducting G&G activities in Federal and state waters under MMPA. The NMFS will use this NEPA document to help support the MMPA rulemaking decision of Incidental Take Authorizations (ITA) authorizations to operators and lessees. Through these authorizations, NMFS must also identify the following:

  • permissible methods of taking pursuant to the activity and the specified geographical region of taking;
  • the means of effecting an unmitigable adverse impact on the species or stock and its habitat and on the availability of the species or stock for “subsistence” uses; and
  • requirements for monitoring and reporting, including requirements for the independent peer review of proposed monitoring plans where the proposed activity may affect the availability of a species or stock for taking for subsistence uses.

This Programmatic EIS establishes a framework for subsequent NEPA analyses for site-specific actions while identifying and analyzing appropriate mitigation measures to be used during future G&G activities on the OCS in support of the oil and gas, renewable energy, and marine mineral resource programs. The impacts of future site-specific actions will be addressed in subsequent NEPA evaluations, per the Council on Environmental Quality’s regulations (40 CFR 1502.20), by tiering from this programmatic evaluation.

The scope of this Programmatic EIS includes a NEPA analysis of specific types of G&G activity that can take place pre- and post-lease on the OCS. It includes the G&G activities needed for operators to make business decisions about acquiring leases and the G&G activities that can take place on a lease once it has been acquired by an operator. The scope of this Programmatic EIS does not include a NEPA analysis to evaluate a specific proposal for oil and gas, renewable energy, or marine mineral leasing; does not authorize an OCS lease sale; and does not approve plans for OCS oil and gas, renewable energy, or marine mineral exploration and/or development.

Scoping is an integral part of the NEPA process, involving the development of alternatives to be analyzed and an examination of a proposed action and its possible effects, establishing the depth of environmental analysis needed, and determining data requirements and analysis procedures. The public is encouraged to participate and submit comments on the proposed action during the scoping period. Public comments are especially valuable at this early stage regarding the potential environmental impacts of a proposed action.

Gulf of Mexico OCS Proposed Geological and Geophysical Activities; Western, Central, and Eastern Planning Areas; Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement OCS EIS/EA BOEM 2017-051 (Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4)

Record of Decision for Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf Proposed Geological and Geophysical Activities Western, Central, and Eastern Planning Areas Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement