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Notice

Block 12 Development Project, Kern County, California; Draft Environmental Assessment and Draft Habitat Conservation Plan

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AGENCY:

Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION:

Notice of availability of permit application; request for comment.

SUMMARY:

We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce the availability of a draft environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act. We also announce receipt of an application for an incidental take permit under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and receipt of a draft habitat conservation plan. Aera Energy, LLC has applied for an incidental take permit under the ESA for the Block 12 Development Project in Kern County, California. The permit would authorize the take of four species incidental to the construction, operation, and maintenance of the project. We invite the public and local, State, Tribal, and Federal agencies to comment on these applications. Before issuing the requested permit, we will take into consideration any information that we receive during the public comment period.

DATES:

We must receive your written comments on or before April 1, 2020.

ADDRESSES:

Obtaining Documents:

  • Electronic: The incidental take permit (ITP) application, draft environmental assessment (draft EA), draft habitat conservation plan (HCP), and any comments and other materials that we receive are available for public inspection at http://www.regulations.gov in Docket No. FWS-HQ-IA-201X-0116.
  • Hardcopy: Hardcopies of the ITP application, draft EA, and draft HCP are also available for public inspection, by appointment, during regular business hours at the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 2800 Cottage Way, W-2605, Sacramento, CA 95825; see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT.

Submitting Comments: To send written comments, please use one of the following methods, and note that your information requests or comments are in reference to the draft EA, draft HCP, or both.

  • Internet: Submit comments at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2018-0116.
  • U.S. Mail or Hand-Delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2018-0116; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, MS: PERMA; 5275 Leesburg Pike; Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

For more information, see Public Comments under SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Justin Sloan, Senior Wildlife Biologist, or Patricia Cole, Chief, San Joaquin Valley Division, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, by phone at 916-414-6600 or via the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8339.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the availability of a draft environmental assessment (EA), prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), and its implementing regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 40 CFR 1506.6. This notice also announces the receipt of an application from Aera Energy, LLC (applicant), for a 35-year incidental take permit (ITP) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). Application for the permit requires the preparation of an HCP with measures to avoid, minimize, and mitigate the impacts of incidental take to the maximum extent practicable. The applicant prepared the draft Block 12 Development Project Habitat Conservation Plan (draft HCP) pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA. The purpose of the EA is to assess the effects of issuing the permit and implementing the draft HCP on the natural and human environment.

Background Information

Section 9 of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531-1544 et seq.) and Federal regulations (50 CFR 17) prohibit the taking of fish and wildlife species listed as endangered or threatened under section 4 of the ESA. Regulations governing permits for endangered and threatened species are at 50 CFR 17.22 and 17.32. For more about the Federal habitat conservation plan (HCP) program, go to http://www.fws.gov/​endangered/​esa-library/​pdf/​hcp.pdf.

National Environmental Policy Act Compliance

The proposed permit issuance triggers the need for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.). The draft EA was prepared to analyze the impacts of issuing an ITP based on the draft HCP and to inform the public of the proposed action, any alternatives, and associated impacts, and to disclose any irreversible commitments of resources.

Proposed Action Alternative

Under the Proposed Action Alternative, the Service would issue an ITP to the applicants for a period of 35 years for certain covered activities (described below). The applicant has requested an ITP for four covered species (described below), three of which are listed as endangered under the Act.

Habitat Conservation Plan Area

The geographic scope of the draft HCP encompasses 503 acres, including the development area and conservation lands. The project would result in the expansion of oil production facilities into approximately 55 acres of the HCP area, located within the Belridge Producing Complex on privately owned land in the unincorporated portion of western Kern County, California.

Covered Activities

The proposed section 10 ITP would allow take of four covered species from covered activities in the proposed HCP area. The applicant is requesting incidental take authorization for covered activities including construction, drilling, operations and maintenance, and plugging and abandonment of oil wells in the project area. The applicant is proposing to implement a number of project design features, including best management practices, as well as general and species-specific avoidance and minimization measures to minimize the impacts of the take from the covered activities.

Covered Species

The following four federally listed endangered species are proposed to be included as covered species in the proposed HCP:

Blunt-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia sila)

Giant kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ingens)

San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica)

Kern mallow (Eremalche kernensis)

The non-listed San Joaquin antelope squirrel (Ammospermophilus nelsoni) is also proposed to be included as a covered species.

No-Action Alternative

Under the No-Action Alternative, the Service would not issue an ITP to the applicant, and the draft HCP would not be implemented. Under this alternative, the applicant may choose not to expand the oil field, or would do so in a manner presumed not to result in the take of ESA listed species.Start Printed Page 12323

Public Comments

We request data, comments, new information, or suggestions from the public, other concerned governmental agencies, the scientific community, Tribes, industry, or any other interested party on this notice, the draft EA, and the draft HCP. We particularly seek comments on the following:

1. Biological information concerning the species;

2. Relevant data concerning the species;

3. Additional information concerning the range, distribution, population size, and population trends of the species;

4. Current or planned activities in the area and their possible impacts on the species;

5. The presence of archeological sites, buildings and structures, historic events, sacred and traditional areas, and other historic preservation concerns, which are required to be considered in project planning by the National Historic Preservation Act; and

6. Any other environmental issues that should be considered with regard to the proposed development and permit action.

Public Availability of Comments

Before including your address, phone number, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment—including your personal identifying information—might be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

Next Steps

Issuance of an incidental take permit is a Federal proposed action subject to compliance with NEPA and section 7 of the ESA. We will evaluate the application, associated documents, and any public comments we receive as part of our NEPA compliance process to determine whether the application meets the requirements of section 10(a) of the Act. If we determine that those requirements are met, we will conduct an intra-Service consultation under section 7 of the ESA for the Federal action for the potential issuance of an ITP. If the intra-Service consultation confirms that issuance of the ITP will not jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species, or destroy or adversely modify critical habitat, we will issue a permit to the applicant for the incidental take of the covered species.

Authority

We publish this notice under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321-4347 et seq.), and its implementing regulations at 40 CFR 1500-1508, as well as in compliance with section 10(c) of the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1531-1544 et seq.) and its implementing regulations at 40 CFR 17.22.

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Jennifer Norris,

Field Supervisor, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento, California.

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[FR Doc. 2020-04173 Filed 2-28-20; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 4333-15-P