WASHINGTON (CN) – The National Marine Fisheries Service proposes to allow BP Exploration to kill up to five ringed seals and to harass bearded and spotted seals, and bowhead, gray and beluga whales at its Northstar oil extraction facility in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska.
Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, all industrial activities likely to have an impact on the behavior of marine mammals must be reviewed by the agency to determine if the activity will threaten the survival of the species.
The bowhead whale is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, as are several populations of gray and beluga whales but not those in the Beaufort Sea.
The agency has proposed listing most populations of the bearded and spotted seals as threatened under the act and has previously determined that a subspecies of ringed seal should be listed as threatened under the act.
The Northstar facility started pumping oil in 2001, and is the first in the Beufort Sea to use a subsea pipeline to transport oil to shore and then into the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
The agency has approved two previous authorizations allowing BP to incidentally harass the six sea mammals. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, facility operators must petition the service every five years to continue activities that incidentally harass marine mammals.
The main cause of disturbance for the six species is the noise caused by drilling and transportation operations, both underwater and on beaches near the facility.
In addition, the use of helicopters and the construction of roads to transport workers and materials to Northstar might cause the seals to leave the beaches or ice floats where they haul out.
In its application, BP said that there is a small chance that a ringed a seal pup might be injured or killed by on-ice construction or transportation activities.
The agency believes that there is only a 7 percent chance of a major oil spill at the “state of the art” facility, according to its plan to allow work at the facility to continue. Because most of the pipeline at the facility is buried, the chance of a spill from the pipeline is less than 5 percent, the agency says.