BOEM seeks comments for possible offshore oil and gas lease sale
The federal agency that is managing oil and gas leasing programs for the outer continental shelf regions surrounding every coastline of the United States, including all of Alaska except for the Bristol Bay area, is currently seeking comments for the 2019-2024 oil and gas leasing program.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a request for information from the public that includes areas that were restricted from leasing by Presidential withdrawal or Congressional moratorium.
The request, posted on the federal register, says that BOEM is seeking a wide array of information associated with the economic, social, and environmental values of all OCS resources, as well as the potential impact of oil and gas exploration and development on other OCS resources, and on the marine, coastal and human environments.
The initiation of this new development process “is a key aspect of the implementation of President Donald J. Trump’s ‘America First’ offshore energy strategy,” the request for information reads.
Trump issued an executive order that nixed President Obama’s executive order establishing a Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area and directed his Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke to investigate all possibilities for American energy production.
Section 2 of Trump’s E.O. 13795 states that “it is United States policy to encourage energy exploration and production, including on the OCS, to maintain the Nation’s global energy leadership” and ‘‘foster energy security and resilience for the benefit of the American people, while ensuring that any such activity is safe and environmentally responsible.’’
Secretary Zinke’s Order 3350 calls for enhancing opportunities for energy exploration, leasing and development.
Although no lease sales are scheduled for the 2017-2022 leasing program, a map of the Alaska Planning area shows that all OCS areas are on the table for potential sales in the 2019-2024 cycle, from the Gulf of Alaska all the way to the Beaufort Sea, including Norton Basin (Norton Sound and waters around St. Lawrence Island) as well as Hope Basin, encompassing areas between Wales and Point Hope, including Kotzebue Sound.
BOEM says the Arctic holds substantial oil and gas potential. In 2016, BOEM estimated Undiscovered Technically Recoverable Oil and Gas Resources in the Chukchi Sea Planning Area to be 29 billion barrels of oil equivalent and in the Beaufort Sea Planning Area to be 13 billion barrels.
Kawerak Inc., the regional non-profit consortium of tribes, last week submitted a detailed comment letter to oppose potential OCS lease sales. The letter, signed by Kawerak Executive Vice President Mary David for President Melanie Bahnke, states that Kawerak sees no reason to change the current oil and gas management plan as the current five year program does not include lease sales in this region. “Should you revise the current management plan, we urge you to exclude the Hope, Norton, St. Matthew Hall and Navarin Basin planning areas from any new plans,” the letter says.
The letter also stressed to include indigenous knowledge in this and any future federal decision making.
The letter goes on to explain the importance of ocean resources to the coastal communities. “The region’s unemployment rate, which is astonishingly higher than in other parts of the nation, means that food from the land and sea are vital for food security,” the letter says.
In order to prepare for a changing arctic, Kawerak has been involved in risk analyses, which, together with its own community-based research, have been compiled into an array of “well-regarded synthesis documents”, the letter says. Kawerak also hosted several workshops titled “Bering Strait Voices” and a summit that centered on the projection of increased maritime traffic due to decreasing summer sea ice in the Arctic. Several things became apparent in those workshops: the communities and tribes don’t want any kind of discharge –even if it’s legal discharge – in their waters. There is great concern about the potential of oil spills and increased ship traffic increase the risk to disturb marine mammals through noise or physical strikes. Fears of increased discharge, ocean pollution and the specter of a potentially devastating oil spill, were expressed over and over again.
The letter also mentions that in the early 1980s oil and gas exploration occurred in the Hope, Norton, St. Matthew Hall and Navarin Basins. “The leasing plans caused significant controversy and even litigation,” the letter says. “We do not want to see this repeated. We opposed those activities then and our position has not changed in the intervening decades. The risks of oil and gas activities to our well-being, way of life and environment are not outweighed by benefits that companies might obtain or offer to us.”
The letter urges BOEM to not schedule lease sales in this region.
The comment period ends on August 17.