BOEM open house on proposed offshore leasing is Jan. 23

Advocates favor economic potential; opponents voice environmental concerns

An open house format meeting in Anchorage on Jan. 23 is one of 23 scheduled across the country in January and February to collect public comment on the proposed 2019-2024 Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing program.

Those planning to attend may arrive any time between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. and submit prepared written comments or enter them on a computer terminal there, to transmit directly to the agency.  The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said experts on specific issues related to the proposed leasing program would be on hand to answer questions on a one-on-one basis and provide information on the national program.

All comments will be posted on BOEM’s website.

A single meeting is scheduled in each of 23 states with coastal shores.

The meeting agenda comes in the wake of a Trump administration announcement on Jan. 4 to reopen the Arctic Ocean and other waters off U.S. shores to exploration by oil companies, reversing actions taken by the Obama administration.

Those unable to attend an open house will be able to visit a virtual meeting room soon to be provided by BOEM, where they can visit the same stations available at the open house meetings, to review and download the same handouts and posters offered at the meetings.

BOEM officials said they are looking for fact-based comments that include links to data or research, and provide specifics regarding impacts on the ocean and coastline, plants, animals, people, and how people use the ocean. Comments are also welcome on where and when people are utilizing areas of the ocean.

The comments will be helpful in development of the programmatic environmental impact statement, whose goal is to provide a national assessment of direct, indirect and cumulative effects of lease sales for the upcoming five-year period.

The programmatic EIS will highlight environmental differences between regions and planning areas, focus on differences in potential impacts on different regions, the potential for cross-boundary impacts to species that may migrate between geographic regions, and the cumulative impact of the five-year program, as a whole.

The EIS will also address whether potential exclusion of areas or other mitigation measures are appropriate at the program stage or should be deferred to the leasing or plan approval stages, the agency said.

The programmatic EIS will not provide any sale-specific analysis of the potential impacts of the lease sales scheduled, so comments on the programmatic EIS should be framed in the context of a programmatic National Environmental Policy Act analysis, the agency said.

Further information on how to submit comments online or by mail is online at www.boem.gov/comment

The release of the Interior Department’s new draft proposed five-year oil and gas leasing program (https://www.boem.gov/National-Program/) was welcomed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, as a positive step “to reinforce our nation’s status as a global energy leader …

“While nothing in this proposal is final, it is good to see the administration seeking to expand access in places like Alaska, rather than limiting our opportunities,” she said.

The draft proposed plan suggests 19 lease sales in Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf, including three sales in the Chukchi Sea, three in the Beaufort Sea, two in Cook Inlet and one each in 11 other program areas. The North Aleutian Basin is not included in this five-year program.

President Obama’s 2017-2022 offshore oil and gas program included 10 lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and one in Cook Inlet.

BOEM recently boosted its estimate for the Beaufort Sea by 700 million barrels to a total of 8.9 billion, while the Chukchi Sea holds an estimated 15.4 billion barrels. Cook Inlet, a developed basin, is a critical source of natural gas for the state’s Railbelt.

Gov. Bill Walker also hailed the plan as an important step toward allowing Alaskans to responsibly develop their natural resources as residents see fit. Walker invited Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to engage with Alaskans as the plan’s development process continues.

Environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, contend that an expansion of offshore oil leasing would adversely affect the environment of oceans.

“Trump’s trying to turn our oceans into oilfields,” said Kristen Monsell, ocean program legal director for the Center, who predicted resulting devastating oil spills.

“It would also increase our dependence on dirty energy,” Monsell said.

The Native Village of Shishmaref sent its comments on offshore leases to BOEM last August, saying that based on the full suite of risks of an oil and gas leasing program, and in light of increased shipping already taking place, that they believe there is too much at stake, and urged against any lease sales in their region of western Alaska. The village entity urged the incorporation of indigenous knowledge into any decisions on leasing that BOEM makes.