BOEM collecting comments on proposed OCS lease sale in Arctic, Cook Inlet

Alaska's proposed lease sale areas -- boemoceaninfo.com
Alaska’s proposed lease sale areas — boemoceaninfo.com

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held an open house in Anchorage Monday seeking comments on the proposed off-shore lease sales for 2017 to 2022. The draft includes sales in northern Cook Inlet, the Beaufort and the Chukchi Seas.

03 BOEM OPEN HOUSE

The three lease sales in Alaska are planned for the end of the five-year period, in 2020 to 2022. Regional BOEM director James Kendall says the scheduling is intentional.

“We want to make sure we get as much relevant scientific information as we can, as much socioeconomic information as we can. There’s also traditional knowledge. So it gives us more time to plan and focus what we’re really considering.”

The agency is currently collecting public comments for a draft environmental impact statement. They’re looking for substantive input like maps of important areas or new studies.

The current proposal already excludes some areas from the potential sale to protect wildlife habitat and subsistence uses in the Chukchi Sea and a small area for whaling in the Beaufort Sea.

Kendall says the final proposal won’t be completed until 2017, and the lease sales are not definite.

“Even if they’re in the final program, that doesn’t mean they’re going to happen. They could be canceled at any time,” Kendall explains. “We want people to understand that this is a very iterative process, and it intentionally takes a long time so that decision are made very thoughtfully with the best information available…The way the process is set up, we can cancel any of these lease sales right up to the very end based on new information, if necessary.”

Environmental groups and some northern Alaskan residents are hoping the Arctic lease sales will not go forward, in part because there’s no infrastructure in place to clean up a major spill. BOEM’s environmental analysis for Chukchi Lease Sale 193 says there’s a 75% chance for one or more large oil spills to occur in the region if there’s drilling.

Kotzebue resident John Chase spoke during a press conference hosted by the Wilderness Society before the open house. He says his family relies almost entirely on subsistence foods and drilling in the Arctic is not a risk he wants to take.

“You can’t give me enough money to take seal oil away from my home, to feed my children.”

Pro-industry groups say development in the Arctic is necessary for the state and national economies. According to a 2011 study by ISER and Northern Economics, development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas could bring the state $19 billion over a 50-year period. It could create an annual average of nearly 55 thousand direct and indirect jobs nationwide.

Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami spoke during the Consumer Energy Alliance’s press conference.

“I got two little grandsons and I’m looking at them, hoping that when they’re old enough to get into the workforce that OCS is going to be cranking along and that we’re going to be having jobs to put them to work, to earn money, to raise their families.”

Kim Kovol is the owner of Midnight Sun Environmental which does permitting and mitigation work throughout the state. She attended the open house to submit comments. She says there needs to be a balance between development and conservation.

“We want to see jobs, we want to see industry flourish in our state. we want to see it done responsibly, and I underscore responsibly. Capitalize it, 96 font, and hot pink it. We want to see a really good balance is what we’re looking for.”

BOEM is collecting comments until March 30. Lease sales are also proposed in the Gulf of Mexico and the mid- and southern Atlantic regions.