WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed rules on regulating Neptune Liquefied Natural Gas LLC's actions to limit the harm done to marine mammals incidental to port commissioning and operations.
The rules would relate to the company's Neptune Deepwater Port in Massachusetts Bay from July 2011 through July 2016.
The Neptune must immediately suspend activities if a dead or injured marine mammal is found in the vicinity of the project area, and the death or injury of the animal could be attributable to the facility Liquefied Natural Gas activities, according to the first of three new mitigation measures in the proposed rules. Upon finding a dead or injured marine mammal, Neptune must contact NMFS, the Northeast Stranding and Disentanglement Program, and the U.S. Coast Guard. NMFS will review the documentation submitted by protected species observers and attempt to attribute a cause of death. Activities may resume only after NMFS review and approval.
Second, protected species observers will direct a moving vessel to slow to idle if a baleen whale is seen less than .6 miles from the vessel.
Third, use of lights during repair or maintenance activities must be limited to areas where work is actually occurring, and all other lights must be turned off. Lights must be downshielded to illuminate the deck and must not intentionally illuminate surrounding waters, so as not to attract whales or their prey to the area.
The harm mentioned would be harassment mainly due to noise and ship traffic, which has the potential to disrupt behavioral patterns such as migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding or sheltering.
The sounds that may disturb the marine mammals include the noise of thrusters maneuvering shuttles and regasification vessels while docking and undocking, and while keeping vessels pointed into waves or weather so they do not rock. Maintenance vessels also would use thrusters, if a major rupture occurs in the pipelines that serve the terminal. The sounds may reach 120 decibels up to 1 mile from the port.
Depending on how close a marine mammal is to the facility, the potential effects of sound from the Neptune Port might include building mammal tolerance to human activity; masking of natural sounds, such as predators; behavioral disturbance; and, possibly, temporary or permanent hearing impairment, according to the proposed rule.
The agency requested public comments on Neptune's application, last spring. Now it requests information, suggestions and comments on its regulations, which are proposed under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
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