For Immediate Release
Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
NOAA Raises Red Flags on Aggressive Offshore Drilling Plan
Exclusion Zones, Buffers and Oil Spill Protections Would Scale Back Lease Schedule
ambitious lease schedule for oil and gas drilling on the Outer
Continental Shelf be dramatically cut back, according to official
comments posted today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). NOAA recommends safeguards for fisheries, marine
mammals and coastal populations that would significantly dial down the
number and size of offshore tracts offered for exploration and
The NOAA comments were filed on September
21, 2009, the comment deadline for the Draft Proposed Outer Continental
Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2010-2015 issued by the
Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS). That plan
issued in January reflects the pro-drilling approach of the outgoing
Bush administration. It would offer 12 large lease areas (4 in Alaska,
3 in the Atlantic, 2 in the Pacific and 3 in the Gulf of Mexico)
covering much of the American OCS.
In its comments, NOAA laid out positions not heard during the Bush years, including:
zones that would block lease sales in the Northern Aleutians (including
Bristol Bay), near shore in the Chukchi Sea, as well as all the
proposed Atlantic and Eastern Gulf tracts;
- Buffer zones that
would bar drilling "around national marine sanctuaries, Habitat Areas
of Particular Concern, Critical Habitat for endangered and threatened
species, major fishing grounds and to provide visual buffers to coastal
areas dependent upon tourism"; and
- A moratorium on any
Arctic Ocean drilling until much better oil spill prevention and
response capability is in place. NOAA also contends that MMS
understates the expected frequency of and risk from spills, generally,
noting aftereffects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita among other factors.
"It is refreshing to hear the voices of marine scientists
who were silenced for the past eight years," stated PEER Executive
Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization released a stream of suppressed
emails and other internal communications about negative effects of
noise, invasive species and other effects in Arctic waters that are now
reflected in the NOAA comments. "The question now is whether NOAA's
precautionary approach will drive federal policy or be run over by
In February, incoming Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
invited public as well as interagency comment on the plan. Salazar has
identified "energy independence" as his top priority. In addition to
expanded OCS exploration, Salazar is promoting non-conventional energy
developments offshore, as well as drilling.
The NOAA comments
state that OCS renewable energy planning is vague, lacks baseline
resource data, and is not coordinated with oil and gas planning. NOAA
also faults the failure to consider impacts from climate change
including "shoreline erosion" and sea ice reduction in the Arctic.
Rick Steiner, a marine conservation specialist at the University of
Alaska, applauded the NOAA comments. "NOAA's recommendations echo
concerns voiced for years by Alaska's Inupiaq people, scientists, and
fishermen regarding the real risks of offshore oil. The issue is
whether Interior will allow industry to drill anywhere it wants or
whether marine ecosystems will be protected from the inherent risks
that accompany offshore petroleum drilling."
conflict, the Obama White House has thus far straddled the fence
without taking firm stands on the underlying elements of a coherent
oceans policy," added Ruch, noting that NOAA has, for example, ruled
out designation of new national marine sanctuaries or monuments in the
Arctic that would preclude drilling. "Decision time is approaching,
however. If NOAA's warnings are not heeded Interior's offshore leasing
plans will again be ensnared in litigation."
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