Resource Development Council

RDC Comment Letter:
Effects of Oil and Gas Activities in the Arctic Ocean DEIS

Statoil Comment Letter by Bill Moore, Land Manager (pdf)

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February 24, 2012

Mr. James H. Lecky
Office of Protected Resources
National Marine Fisheries Service
1315 East-West Highway, Room 13705
Silver Spring, MD 20910-6233

Re: DEIS on Effects of Oil and Gas Activities in the Arctic Ocean

Dear Mr. Lecky:

The Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc., (RDC) is writing to express its opposition to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the Effects of Oil and Gas Activities in the Arctic Ocean.

RDC is a statewide organization made up of all resource sectors, business associations, labor unions, Native corporations, tourism providers, local governments and individuals. RDC’s purpose is to encourage a strong, diversified private sector in Alaska and expand the state’s economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.

RDC has serious concerns with the DEIS and believes the proposed mitigation measures are so problematic that they will severely compromise the feasibility of developing oil and gas resources in the Alaska OCS. RDC does not support any of the alternatives in the DEIS. NEPA requires that an EIS provide a full and reasonable range of alternatives. However, none of the alternatives offered in the DEIS are reasonable.

The industry purchased leases in the Arctic in good faith, and Shell alone has spent more then $4 billion on purchasing its leases and preparing to drill. However, the restrictions and mitigation measures outlined in the five alternatives of the DEIS would likely make future development improbable and uneconomic, which in our view would essentially amount to a de facto taking of the leases. The mitigation measures and restrictions are in addition to current lease stipulations and other measures already in place to protect the environment.

Our concerns include arbitrary seasonal closures that would effectively reduce the brief open water season by up to 50 percent in some areas of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. In addition, the scope of alternatives would arbitrarily limit activities to unrealistically low levels that underestimate the amount of anticipated exploration drilling. 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 and 18 in the Beaufort, this scope is extremely problematic in that it would likely curtail or defer exploration activities, preventing some leaseholders from pursuing development of their leases.

The proposed restrictions not only extend beyond the scope of earlier EIS’, RDC believes they are beyond the scope and jurisdiction of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and generally constitute a broad expansion of regulatory oversight. As a result, we believe the DEIS extends control beyond the agency’s mandate and conflicts with other agency jurisdictions.

Other potential requirements that are of deep concern include a zero discharge mandate, despite no scientific evidence that any of the discharges would 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 would extend exclusion zones and sharply curtail lease block access. Arbitrary mandates, including flight restrictions to above 1,500 feet, are also proposed, as well as “Special Habitat Areas” which would also arbitrarily restrict access.

The DEIS also mandates 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 agrees with both ConocoPhillips Alaska, Inc. and the Alaska Oil and Gas Association that the current DEIS process is unnecessary and that it duplicates National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyses that have already been performed. There has already been both a final and supplemental EIS for Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193, which adequately addressed seismic exploration and other lease activities to which this DEIS is intended to assess. In addition, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has prepared NEPA analyses for Shell’s exploration drilling programs and will prepare a project specific analysis for all other Arctic OCS exploration programs. As a result, the DEIS duplicates and complicates the NEPA process by introducing a competing impact assessment to BOEM’s work.

Furthermore, there is no need to prepare a full EIS for Incidental Take Authorizations, given the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) grants the NMFS authority to authorize incidental take of small numbers of marine mammals only if such activity has no more than a “negligible impact” on affected stocks. NEPA only requires preparation of an EIS if a proposed action is expected to “significantly” affect the human environment. In fact, an EIS has never been prepared for the incidental take of small numbers of marine mammals. Likewise, geological and geophysical activities do not require an EIS, given they are limited by scope, duration, and impact. These activities do not have the potential to “significantly” affect the environment or subsistence resources, and there has not been a need for an EIS to address these activities.

RDC would also like to point out that there are regulations already in place for incidental take of polar bears and walrus in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, and the incidental harassment authorization process for NMFS species has long been established. This process has a long track record of success in protecting these species.

Considering what is already in place, the suggested mitigation measures outlined in the DEIS are unnecessary since they address problems that have long been adequately mitigated. Simply put, the restrictions and mitigation measures in the DEIS go too far. The DEIS is not only unnecessary, it is unworkable. It would likely preclude future development, undermining the Obama administration’s priority of developing the vast oil and gas deposits of the Arctic, which the President has found to be in the nation’s best interest.

The OCS is an important future source of U.S. energy supply. The potential reserves offshore Alaska could reach as high as 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – more than all the current total proven U.S. oil reserves. Development would significantly boost the economy, create 54,000 new jobs and $145 billion in payroll across the U.S., and reduce America’s reliance on foreign energy. It would also generate $193 billion in revenues to federal, state, and local governments.

RDC strongly encourages the NMFS to abandon this unnecessary and duplicate process, which in its current form, would likely stymie U.S. Arctic oil and gas activities. If the agency insists on moving forward with the DEIS, at a minimum, the document must strike a balance in assessing reasonable measures that will protect the environment, while not compromising the feasibility of harnessing the much-needed energy resources of the Arctic.

Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc.

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