Impact assessments come in many forms depending on the project location and the relevant varied and cumbersome regulatory requirements. CSA’s strong ability to coordinate and communicate with regulatory agencies can streamline the otherwise unwieldy requirements.
For domestic needs at the federal level, the most frequently encountered assessments in the marine environment are in response to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA 42 USC 4321 et seq.), which provides the framework for environmental decision-making in the U.S. NEPA requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision-making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and evaluating reasonable alternatives. There are two main types of NEPA documents that CSA often prepares (or assists with preparing) for U.S. federal agencies: Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EIAs). A third NEPA document, the Categorical Exclusion Review, is an internal agency document that CSA is not likely to be involved in preparing as, basically, it is a determination that a proposed action does not require an EA because its impacts are already well known from past experience.
- Environmental Assessment (EA). An EA is a NEPA document that a federal agency prepares to determine whether a federal action (such as issuing a permit) will significantly affect the quality of the environment.
- Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). An EIS is a more detailed NEPA document that a federal agency prepares when it determines that a federal action will significantly affect the quality of the environment.
In general, EAs and EISs are prepared for a specific proposed action such as conducting a lease sale (BOEM) or shock testing a submarine (Navy). However, agencies also prepare Programmatic EISs (PEISs) and EAs to evaluate broad, program level actions such as permitting geological and geophysical testing in the Atlantic or revising a nationwide oil and gas leasing program.
- Purpose of and need for the proposed action
- Alternatives, including the proposed action
- Affected environment
- Environmental consequence
The table of contents of an EIS can vary, but must cover these elements (and others specified in the NEPA regulations). The main difference between an EA and EIS (other than the length and level of detail) is the inclusion of a public review and comment process required for an EIS. This usually includes scoping hearings prior to development of the EIS as well as public hearings to receive comments on a Draft EIS.
Many federal agencies have NEPA staff that prepare EISs and EAs, and they have their own NEPA procedures (or NEPA manuals) that provide detailed guidance well beyond the NEPA Regulations. They may use a contractor such as CSA for a particular EIS if it cannot be handled by their in house staff for one reason or another. Another situation is the third-party EIS, where the lead agency (such as the U.S. Coast Guard) is nominally preparing an EIS but contracts it to CSA and the EIS is paid for by a proponent (such as a deepwater port applicant).
CSA also prepares NEPA-related documents for industry clients to support their permit applications to U.S. government agencies.
- Gulf of Mexico Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). CSA routinely prepares EIAs for oil and gas industry clients in the Gulf of Mexico for submittal to BOEM along with the client’s Exploration Plan (EP) or Development Operations Coordination Document (DOCD). When BOEM receives the applicant’s EP or DOCD, it reviews the plan (including the EIA) and prepares an EA or a Categorical Exclusion Review.
- Gulf of Mexico Seismic EIAs. CSA prepares EIAs for oil and gas industry clients in the Gulf of Mexico for submittal to BOEM along with permit applications for seismic surveys. When BOEM receives the permit application, it reviews the application (including the EIA) and prepares an EA utilizing the information provided in the EIA.
- Environmental Reports, Environmental Evaluations, etc. CSA has prepared many impact assessments for seismic, submarine telecommunication, oil and gas, and other offshore industry clients in support of their applications to federal and/or state agencies. These are not NEPA documents, but will eventually be considered by a federal agency during their own NEPA process in evaluating whether to issue a federal permit. Preparation of an evaluation to support a permit application is a valuable component to accompany a permit application because it is providing a portion of the completed work for the agency reviewing the application.
International Impact Assessments
Our international clients often require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), or Environmental, Social and Health Impact Assessment (ESHIA). The type of assessment, the process, and the document contents can vary depending on the client, the country and its regulatory framework, the type of project, and whether funding is being sought from international financing institutions.Types of Impact Assessments
- Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). An EIA is an evaluation of the possible positive or negative impacts that a proposed project may have on the environment.
- Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA). An ESIA is an EIA that also explicitly includes social impacts. This may be appropriate for projects where extensive onshore development is proposed.
- Environmental, Social and Health Impact Assessment (ESHIA). An ESHIA is similar to an EIA with the addition of both social and health impacts. Again, it is more likely to be required for projects where extensive onshore development is proposed.
Because many international development projects seek funding through the World Bank Group, the impact assessment guidelines developed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, are widely applicable. The IFC has developed a Sustainability Framework, including Performance Standards, which are used by the IFC to manage social and environmental risks and impacts and to enhance development opportunities in its private sector financing in its member countries eligible for financing.