Feds Rush Incomplete Environmental Review of Oil and Gas Drilling in Arctic Ocean

For Immediate Release

Feds Rush Incomplete Environmental Review of Oil and Gas Drilling in Arctic Ocean

Alaska Office Fails to Adhere to New Goals for Responsible Offshore Drilling Based on Sound Science

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement
(BOEMRE) Alaska office, formerly the Minerals Management Service, today
released a draft supplemental environmental impact statement for
offshore oil and gas Lease Sale 193 in the Chukchi Sea in America’s
Arctic Ocean.  The statement comes just two months after a federal judge
tossed out the Bush-era environmental impact statement and on the same
day Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced plans to lift
the moratorium on offshore oil drilling.

Today’s draft supplemental EIS chronicles these statements of missing
information—over 130 pages worth in the government’s rendering—but
concludes that none of the information is needed to make the decision to
lease the Chukchi Sea to oil and gas companies.

The following statement is from Earthjustice, NRDC, Northern Alaska
Environmental Center, Oceana, Pacific Environment, Inupiat Community of
the Arctic Slope, REDOIL, The Wilderness Society, Native Village of
Point Hope, Center for Biological Diversity, Alaska Wilderness League,
and Defenders of Wildlife denouncing BOEMRE’s unnecessarily hasty and
incomplete draft environmental impact review:

“Today’s draft environmental impact statement purports to contain the
analysis required by a federal district court on the impact of oil and
gas development in the Chukchi Sea. Clearly, BOEMRE’s Alaska office has
not taken its obligation seriously. We are dismayed that the agency has
rushed out an incomplete analysis that does not fill any of the gaps
found in the 30 pages of material where the federal government admitted
enormous data gaps about basic biology and habitat use of endangered
whales, threatened polar bears, walrus, seals, sea birds, migratory
birds, fish and other species that live in the Arctic Ocean.

“It may have a new name, but in this case BOEMRE’s Alaska office looks
like the same old MMS. Rushing out a new justification for the Chukchi
Sea lease sale before it has had a chance to fill any of the hundreds of
gaps in critical knowledge about these pristine waters shows that the
Alaska office still has the drilling blinders on. While Sec. Salazar
lifts the ban on offshore oil drilling, Alaska waters are at even
greater risk as incomplete environmental assessments continue to emerge
from the Alaska BOEMRE office.

“If we have learned anything from the Gulf spill, it should be that we
should study the potential environmental effects before we proceed with
drilling. Simply stating that the agency does not know the impacts is
not acceptable. A catastrophic oil spill in the harsh, remote waters of
the Arctic Ocean will devastate that region. Twenty-foot ocean swells,
frozen seas, subzero temperatures and a lack of infrastructure will make
an oil spill of any size nearly impossible to clean up.

“The agency should at least wait for its own experts, the U.S.
Geological Survey, to finish their report about critical missing
information on the Arctic Ocean, due this April, before going forward
with its review. This administration has committed to following science
in its policy decisions. The Alaska office of BOEMRE should not consider
itself exempt from this promise.”

Additional Background Information

In July and August, 2010, an Alaska federal district court ruled that
the former MMS had violated the National Environmental Policy Act in
failing to fully analyze missing information and natural gas development
in the Chukchi Sea before offering oil and gas leases there in 2008.
 It sent the analysis back to the agency, now named BOEMRE, and directed
it to identify what missing information about the Chukchi Sea was
important to the lease sale decision and to obtain that information,
absent a determination that it would be exorbitantly expensive to do so.

The amount of missing basic scientific information about the Chukchi Sea
is astounding—a 30-page document submitted by the plaintiffs in the
litigation outlined the literally hundreds of statements made by MMS in
its overturned environmental impact statement acknowledging missing
information about the Chukchi Sea environment and the potential effects
of oil and gas development on wildlife and subsistence.  For example,
the agency admitted that it does not know where there are important
feeding areas for endangered bowhead whales—a species central to the
subsistence culture of indigenous Alaska Native communities on the
Chukchi Sea coast and highly sensitive to industrial disturbance.  The
agency also admitted that it did not know enough to determine whether
oil and gas activities would or would not have a significant effect on
marine mammals.

Contact: Eric Grafe, Earthjustice (907) 723-3813
Eric Young, Natural Resources Defense Council (202) 289-2373
Pamela Miller, Northern Alaska Environmental Center (907) 452-5021, x24
Michael LeVine, Oceana (907) 723-0136
Carole Holley, Pacific Environment (907) 306-1180
George Edwardson, Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope (907) 852-3746
Faith Gemmill, Resisting Environmental Destruction of Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), (907) 750-0188
Lois Epstein, The Wilderness Society (907) 272-9453; Neil Shader, The Wilderness Society (202) 429-3941
Lily Tuzroyluke, Native Village of Point Hope (907) 368-2330
Rebecca Noblin, Center for Biological Diversity (907) 305-4822
Kristen Miller, Alaska Wilderness League (202) 544-5205
Caitlin Leutwiler, Defenders of Wildlife (202) 772-3226

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