Government Conducting Oil Spill Analysis in Chukchi

Photo and Story Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska

The federal government will be conducting a new oil spill analysis before it completes a lease sale in the Chukchi Sea.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement announced today that it will be shifting the schedule for its Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement so that it will have time to study what’s called a “Very Large Oil Spill” scenario – a spill that would involve over 150,000 gallons of oil. In the past few months, the bureau has received over 100,000 comments on the lease sale. Many of these comments asked for a study that would look at the effects of a Deepwater Horizon-like spill in the Arctic.

Lease Sale 193 occurred in 2008, but was put on hold after conservation and Native groups sued the government and argued that the environmental impacts of drilling in the Chukchi had not been thoroughly studied. The federal government is currently completing another environmental impact statement to address these concerns.

This extended review process will primarily affect leases for Shell Oil. Shell had intended to drill an exploratory well in the Beaufort Sea this summer, but decided not to because of permitting delays. Spokesperson Curtis Smith says that the company is still trying to understand the intent of the order, but he says that this move could further complicate Shell’s plans in the Arctic. He also says that Shell’s drilling program isn’t comparable to BP’s operation in the Gulf of Mexico.

But conservation groups think that the federal government is taking a step in the right direction by asking for an oil spill analysis. Pamela Miller is the Arctic program director at the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, and she says that Shell’s own studies are not sufficient.

The federal government expects that the environmental review will be finalized by October.

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