The U.S. Department of the Interior has announced the release of a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) for Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193, which moves the Department one step closer to resolving federal court concerns regarding the 2008 oil and gas leases offshore Alaska.
The FSEIS updates the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) estimates of the full range of production levels from offshore oil fields that might be developed in the Chukchi Sea as well as the related potential environmental effects of the lease sale.
“Alaska is a critical component of our nation’s energy portfolio, and the Chukchi Sea has substantial oil and gas potential, as well as sensitive marine and coastal resources that Alaska Native communities depend on for subsistence,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “The updated analysis is a major step toward resolving the 2008 oil and gas leases that have been tied up in the courts for years. We remain committed to taking a thoughtful and balanced approach to oil and gas leasing and exploration in this unique, sensitive and often challenging environment.”
The original Environmental Impact Statement for Lease Sale 193 was published in 2007, and the lease sale was conducted in 2008. Subsequent legal challenges and federal court decisions remanded the sale back to BOEM for further analysis. The most recent decision, from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, was specifically related to the agency’s estimates of production levels from offshore oil fields that might be developed in the Chukchi Sea.
According to DOI, the FSEIS is based on the best available data – including actual leasing records and current geological information – to estimate the highest amount of production that could reasonably result from Lease Sale 193. Based upon the findings in the Court of Appeal’s decision, as well as a better understanding about existing geologic structures in the region and improved information about where industry operators are likely to focus their development activities, BOEM evaluated a higher exploration and production scenario than in its previous analyses. The FSEIS is being filed consistent with the schedule identified by the courts.
BOEM received more than 400,000 comments in response to the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement published in November 2014. BOEM held public hearings in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and in the Chukchi Sea communities of Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright and Barrow. The bureau also met with and consulted Alaska Native tribal governments in several of these communities.
“After carefully analyzing the comments, best available science and additional information, BOEM has developed a comprehensive analysis to address the court’s concerns,” said BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper. “We appreciate the input from Alaska Native tribes, federal, state and local partners and the public in developing this updated assessment.”
Following the publication of the FSEIS for Lease Sale 193 in the Federal Register, there will be at least a 30-day waiting period before a final decision can be made on the lease sale. In early 2014, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) suspended all of the Chukchi Sea leases issued in Lease Sale 193. The suspensions remain in effect until a Record of Decision is issued.
If the lease sale is affirmed, BOEM and BSEE would need to review a company’s specific exploration plan, an application for permit to drill and other materials before any exploration activity could occur.
The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) for Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193 can be found here.
Environmentalists not happy
Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest law organization based in the United States dedicated to environmental issues, said today that while EIS isn’t the DOI’s final decision about whether to end or affirm the Chukchi Sea oil leases, it is a notable rushed stride toward potential environmental harm.
“The lease sale decision is a golden opportunity for the Obama administration to show leadership by deciding to keep the Chukchi Sea off limits to drilling,” said Earthjustice Staff Attorney Erik Grafe. “But Interior’s publication of the supplemental EIS for the Chukchi Sea lease today is a step in the wrong direction. The Interior is rushing through the process to cater to Shell’s drilling wishes rather than sound decision-making about an irreplaceable region already under dramatic climate stress.”
Earthjustice and other environmental groups are calling for the department to take additional time to fully inform the public about the risks of oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea.
“Today’s impact statement confirms again that drilling in the Chukchi Sea puts Arctic people and wildlife at risk from major oil spills,” Grafe said. “It concludes there is a 75 percent chance of one or more major oil spills if the Chukchi Sea is developed, and there is no way to clean or contain such a spill. Drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean also would exacerbate climate change, adding climate insult to climate injury. The administration should end the leases.”