Speculation Not Science at the Center of the Proposal to Designate Rice’s Whale Critical Habitat in the Gulf of Mexico

Houston, TX, U.S., Oct. 06, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The EnerGeo Alliance along with the American Petroleum Institute and other U.S.-focused energy trade associations called on the National Marine Fisheries Service to withdraw the proposal to designate Rice’s whale critical habitat in the Gulf of Mexico. The current proposal is based on inadequate science, violates the Endangered Species Act, and will result in severe economic impacts across numerous industries. The associations have asked NMFS to discard the proposed rule and issue a new proposal that complies with the ESA.

“The current proposal is a drastic overreach. NMFS has incorrectly claimed that Rice’s whales occupy the entire Gulf of Mexico continental shelf. This is based on guesswork, not sightings or hard evidence,” says Dustin Van Liew, vice president of global policy & government affairs, EnerGeo.

NMFS is proposing a critical habitat designation for over 28,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico. However, the agency has failed to demonstrate this entire area is occupied by Rice’s whales, or even possesses suitable habitat. The agency cites a single Rice’s whale sighting off the central Texas coast and possible acoustic detections in the western and northern Gulf of Mexico.

“The non-critical habitat included, as proposed, would lead to widespread negative economic impacts on energy exploration and development throughout the region. NMFS completely fails to identify and consider these costs with this proposed designation and that’s in direct violation of the ESA,” says Van Liew.

Under the ESA, NMFS must identify specific locations where essential habitat features are found. Instead, NMFS identifies a single geological feature, the 100- to 400-meter isobath. The NMFS says this area is important due to the prey availability, water characteristics and quiet conditions, however, it violates ESA requirements by failing to identify specific areas where these features exist. The proposal also contradicts NMFS’s own statements that the Rice’s whales’ range is primarily restricted to the De Soto Canyon area.

EnerGeo believes the proposal should exclude designations in the central and northwestern Gulf of Mexico where the economic impact of a designation would far outweigh any potential benefits to Rice’s whales. The associations request that NMFS withdraw the proposed rule and reissue one that complies with the ESA and its implementing regulations.



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