Read RDC's Comment Letter
Deadline for Comment was February 28, 2012
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the Effects of Oil and Gas Activities in the Arctic Ocean. NMFS is serving as the lead agency for this EIS. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the North Slope Borough are cooperating agencies on the EIS. An official 45-day comment period on the document has been extended to Tuesday, February 28. Public meetings were held through February 9 on the North Slope, and in Anchorage on Monday, February 13.
In December 2011, NMFS released the DEIS to analyze the impacts of oil and gas offshore exploration activities in federal and state waters of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Based on issues identified in the scoping period for the EIS, five alternatives were developed and carried forward for analysis. Each alternative includes an analysis of a suite of standard and additional mitigation measures that have been identified to reduce impacts to marine mammals and to ensure no adverse impacts on the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses.
The DEIS outlines mitigation measures and restrictions to oil and gas exploration in the Alaska Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) that would be in addition to current lease stipulations and potentially curtail future offshore exploration. The proposed restrictions could effectively take leases the industry purchased in good faith and severely compromise the economic feasibility of developing oil and gas resources in the Alaska OCS. Restrictions include arbitrary seasonal closures that would effectively reduce the brief open water season by at least 50 percent in some areas of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
In addition, the scope of alternatives considered would arbitrarily limit activities to levels that jeopardize the economic viability of seasonal exploration programs. For example, the maximum amount of activity considered by any of the alternatives in the DEIS within a single season is two exploratory drilling programs in each sea. With six operators holding leases in the Chukchi Sea and 18 operators holding leases in the Beaufort Sea, this scope is extremely problematic in that it could lock out some lease holders and prevent them from pursuing development of their leases. Moreover, this level of activity is less than what is needed for economic viability.
Proposed restrictions not only extend beyond the scope of earlier EIS’; they are beyond the scope and jurisdiction of NMFS, and generally constitute a broad expansion of regulatory oversight. As a result, the DEIS extends control and oversight beyond the agency’s mandate and conflicts with other agency jurisdictions.
Other potential requirements include a zero discharge mandate, despite no evidence that any of the discharges could impact marine mammals. Cumulative impacts from oil and gas activities are prescriptively written to limit exploration activities during the short open water season. Acoustic restrictions extend exclusion zones and curtail lease block access. Arbitrary mandates, including flight restrictions to above 1,500 feet, are also proposed, as well as “Special Habitat Areas” which arbitrarily restrict lease block access.
The DEIS effectively includes mitigation measures which require marine mammal observers on all oil and gas vessels and mandate portions of Conflict Avoidance Agreements (CAAs) with broad impacts to operations. CAAs are currently voluntary and mandating such agreements clearly supersedes the authority of NMFS.
RDC encourages its members to submit written comments on the DEIS and provide brief testimony at the February hearing in Anchorage. Other public hearings were held from January 30 through February 9 in the communities of Barrow, Kaktovik, Kivalina, Kotzebue, Nuiqsut, Point Hope, Point Lay, and Wainwright; an additional hearing was held in Anchorage on Monday, February 13.
Mail: Director, Office of Protected Resources, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910
Submit comments by also using a link at the project website:
The DEIS is available for public review at:
Points to consider in your comments:
- The proposed restrictions would effectively take what industry purchased in good faith and make development of offshores leases in the Arctic improbable and uneconomic. The DEIS is extremely problematic in that proposed mitigation measures will severely compromise the economic feasibility of developing oil and gas in the Alaska OCS.
- Limiting activity to only two exploration drilling programs in each the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea during a single season would lock out other lease holders and prevent them from pursuing development of their leases.
- Arbitrary end dates for prospective operations effectively restrict exploration in Camden Bay to August 25th, which takes out 54 percent of the drilling season.
- The DEIS extends control and oversight beyond the agency’s authority and conflicts with other agency jurisdictions such as BOEM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
- The DEIS extends restrictions on the amount of activity well beyond the scope of the earlier Lease Sale EIS.
- Proposed actions to restrict noise or cumulative impacts from oil and gas activities are prescriptively written to limit exploration activities during the short open water season.
- Acoustic restrictions extend exclusion zones and curtail lease block access.
- “Special Habitat Areas” arbitrarily restrict lease block access.
- Many mitigation measures are unclear or left open to agency interpretation, expanding uncertainties for future exploration or development. For example, alternative five includes technologies for mitigation that have not yet been built and/or tested.
- The DEIS includes mitigation measures which would mandate portions of Conflict Avoidance Agreements with broad impacts to operations. Such a requirement supersedes the authority of NMFS.
- This DEIS clearly proposes mitigation measures beyond the scope and jurisdiction of NMFS and constitutes a broad reassessment and expansion of regulatory oversight.
- The DEIS is arbitrary – it is not associated with a specific project. The DEIS is not based on the reasonably foreseeable level of activities in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, nor past lease sales, a proposed lease sale, or a five-year planning program. The DEIS covers over 200,000 square miles of waters within the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, including state waters.
Deadline for Comment was February 28, 2012